'I lost my dad to prostate cancer, don't lose yours'

By Dominic Hughes
Health correspondent, BBC News

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Danielle Ray
Image caption,
Danielle Ray's father Jonny died at the age of 63 from prostate cancer

More than 14,000 UK men are thought to need treatment for prostate cancer, but have not come forward because of the pandemic. The NHS is urging men to check their risk online as a first step to identifying a cancer that is very treatable if caught early enough.

"He was my best friend. He was - and he will always be - my best friend."

Danielle Ray was extremely close to her father, Jonny.

"Literally, we used to say that we were each other's twin, we literally had the same mindset.

"And we were very, very close. So it's very difficult without him."

As Danielle - known as Dan to her father - approaches her 30th birthday, it weighs on her mind that she will reach one of life's milestones without him.

She was just 25 when Jonny died after being diagnosed with prostate cancer. Jonny himself was only 63.

Losing her father to a disease, that if caught early enough is very treatable, has been hard to take.

"His diagnosis came as a shock. He did have some symptoms, now I realise.

"But sort of out of the blue he was referred, I think when the symptoms sort of became worse, and he was diagnosed in October 2015.

"It probably must have started a couple of years beforehand, but you just don't think it's ever going to happen to you, or to affect your family."

Jonny died two years after being diagnosed.

Danielle feels his initial symptoms - needing to go to the toilet frequently - also weren't recognised by his doctor soon enough, and says her father didn't push for a second opinion.

Not to mention that many men find talking about prostate problems difficult.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
"The prognosis for the people we're yet to see will be much better the earlier we see them," says the NHS's Prof Peter Johnson

The charity Prostate Cancer UK and the NHS believe thousands of men could be living with the cancer, but don't yet know it.

Since April 2020, more than 58,000 men have started treatment for prostate cancer, but that is 14,000 fewer than would have been expected when compared with pre-pandemic numbers.

Nicola Tallett, acting chief executive at Prostate Cancer UK, says the pandemic has had a real impact on the numbers seeking help.

"Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men, but the pandemic has meant thousands of men have not come forward for diagnosis and could be missing out on life-saving treatment," she said.

"Although thousands of men are still being treated each month, if things don't change soon, the number of men missing out will continue to grow.

"Men have been telling us they haven't wanted to 'bother' their GP during the pandemic - particularly if they don't have any symptoms, which is the case for most men with early prostate cancer.

"This means men at higher risk of the disease are not having those vital conversations about their risk that can lead to a diagnosis."

Symptoms of prostate cancer:

  • needing to pee more frequently - particularly at night
  • difficulty starting to pee, weak flow and it taking a long time
  • blood in urine or semen

These symptoms can be caused by other conditions, so it is important to get any changes checked by a doctor.

The charity has a 30-second online risk-checker to allow men to find out more about their risk and what they can do about it.

Prof Peter Johnson, national clinical director for cancer for the NHS in England, says it's important to know how you can take further action if you are at risk.

"The prognosis for the people we're yet to see will be much better the earlier we see them, but we do need to see them as soon as possible.

"It's important men understand prostate cancer often doesn't show any symptoms at an early stage, so don't delay - check your risk now. The simple check could be life-saving."

Image caption,
Andrew Richardson says it was just a simple blood test that saved his life

One in eight men will get prostate cancer in their lifetime - men over 50, black men and those with a history of it in their family are at even greater risk.

That was the exactly the case for Andrew Richardson - his dad has lived with prostate cancer for years.

In 2020, Andrew himself had a routine screening blood test which revealed some worrying signs and a prostate cancer diagnosis soon followed.

His advice for other men now is simple: "Don't just sit there thinking, it'll be all right.

"There could be something happening and the one thing I have found out since about prostate cancer is that it's very aggressive.

"Once it takes hold of the rest of your body, it can just be a chasing game.

"I mean, I was really lucky, I didn't need any radiotherapy, I didn't need any chemotherapy. The operation did it for me."

Although many people do live with prostate cancer, some forms can be very aggressive.

Andrew, a proud Yorkshireman and Bradford City fan, admits the road to recovery was hard at times.

But he is now back running, is about to start playing five-a-side football again, and last summer even completed the Pontefract 10km run in a not-too-shabby 52 minutes.

And he says it was just a simple blood test that saved his life.

"I think I've used all my luck up in one go. And if that's the only luck I'm going to have in my life, I'll take that."

One disease, two very different outcomes.

But from Andrew and Danielle, it's the same message for thousands of men now thought to be living with prostate cancer - come forward if you are only even slightly worried, and get tested.