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United front

Political party leaders get together to raise awareness of the dangers of prostate cancer in men in the UK

Tony Blair, Michael Howard and Charles Kennedy have joined forces to raise awareness of prostate cancer by recording messages of support for the Prostate Cancer Charter for Actionís Audio Motion Day.

The recordings are part of a new awareness campaign about the disease, which launches at the National Prostate Cancer Conference on Thursday (November 3). The Audio Day Motion initiative is based on Parliamentís Early Day Motions where MPs give their support to issues.

"It is crucial for the prostate cancer cause to get backing from high-profile politicians. Only men get prostate cancer and it is the cancer they are most likely to get," said Dr Chris Hiley, head of policy and research at the Prostate Cancer Charity.

"Men need other men to speak out on it and to prioritise it as an issue ñ call it role modelling if you will. High-profile men leading by example is a powerful influence," he added.

Prostate cancer is the biggest killer of men in the UK having overtaken lung cancer as the most commonly diagnosed form of cancer in males. Each year around 30,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer, of these 10,000 die. However, awareness remains low when compared to other cancers.

The support messages from the party leaders have been bolstered by news that the government has launched a £100,000 pilot initiative to raise awareness of the disease, educate them about the symptoms of the condition and evaluate the effects of the project.

The pilot will run in 2006 at an as yet unnamed NHS Primary Care Trust with results from the scheme expected in autumn next year.

"We take prostate cancer very seriously. We published the NHS Prostate Cancer Programme in 2001 to give prostate cancer the priority it deserves and since then a lot of excellent progress has been made," said health minister, Rosie Winterton.

"But there is more to do," she added. "We recognise that public awareness of prostate cancer could be improved."

The government has hinted that if the venture is a success, the initiative could be rolled out across the country.

Greater steps

Campaigners have said that men with prostate cancer have a worse experience during diagnosis and treatment than people suffering from other forms of cancer. They have called for an increase in the number of specialist nurses to treat those suffering from the disease and a national screening programme.

However, Dr Hiley said he did not expect to see a screening programme for prostate cancer with the current technology that exists.

"We need an effective test that we know saves lives. At the moment the PSA test is not sufficiently reliable and rigorous scientific evidence does not exist that a screening programme based on this test would reduce mortality. Two large research trials are however taking place in Europe and the US. The results will be revealed in a few years," said Dr Hiley.

"In the meantime, we are urging Government to promote research to find a better test - one capable of distinguishing between aggressive prostate cancers and slower growing cancers which might not need radical treatment. Itís an area of intense interest and public concern, for good reason, because 10,000 lives are lost to prostate cancer in the UK every year."

2nd September 2008

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