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40,000 a year get prostate cancer
Prostate cancer is now affecting more than 40,000 men a year in the UK, new figures have shown.
The number of men dying from the disease each year remains unchanged, at about 10,000 a year.
In 2009, around 40,800 British men were diagnosed with prostate cancer, the charity Cancer Research UK reported. That compares with a figure of just 14,000 two decades earlier in 1989. Prior to this latest update, the figure most often quoted was 37,000.
Much of the increase is due to more men having blood tests for the prostate cancer biomarker Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA), say experts.
PSA testing first started in the UK in around 1989. Since then prostate cancer incidence rates have more than doubled from 47.4 to 102.9 per 100,000 men in the UK population. However, PSA testing is not used as part of a national screening programme because of doubts about its reliability.
Research suggests that up to two thirds of men with high PSA levels do not have prostate cancer. Diagnosis of the disease is only confirmed after analysis of biopsy tissue samples. In some cases, the cancer is so slow growing that no radical treatment is necessary. In others, early surgery or radiotherapy is vital.
Professor Malcolm Mason, Cancer Research UK's prostate cancer expert, said: "Accurately diagnosing and predicting the need for treatment of prostate cancer is fraught with difficulties and there is no escaping the fact that we need a better tool than PSA to help detect prostate cancers that actually need treating. Men need to be counselled about the upsides and downsides of having a PSA test and the uncertainties that it can raise.
"We urgently need to find better tests that tell us more about a man's prostate cancer. Is the disease going to sit quietly in the background and never cause a problem or do we need to treat it aggressively? If we can accurately answer these questions, we could spare thousands of men unnecessary treatment that can lead to side effects like impotence and incontinence."
A Department of Health spokesman said: "The increase in the number of prostate cancers diagnosed over the last two decades is largely down to men living longer and the increase in the level of prostate specific antigen (PSA) testing.
"Although the diagnosis of less aggressive cancers will have contributed to the fall in death rates, we don't underestimate the impact of major improvements in treating the disease that have improved outcomes for many men. All men over 50 are entitled to a free PSA test on the NHS provided they have made an informed choice in consultation with their GP."