Public health messages about prostate cancer could hinder early detection efforts by placing a misleading focus on urinary symptoms, the scientists said.
Cambridge University researchers say “there is no evidence of a causal link between prostate cancer and prostate size or bothersome male urinary symptoms.”
However, many public health guidelines promote this link, with an increased need to urinate topping the list of prostate cancer symptoms provided on the NHS website.
In a review published in the journal BMC Medicine, Cambridge researchers argue that the “strong public perception” that male urinary symptoms are a key indicator of prostate cancer “could seriously hamper efforts to encourage early presentation.”
“If early detection rates are to improve, we ask for a loud and clear message that prostate cancer is a silent disease, especially in the treatable stages, and that men should come forward for testing whether or not they have symptoms,” the document states.
“This should be done in parallel with other ongoing efforts to raise awareness, including targeting men at higher risk due to racial ancestry or family history.”
Prostate cancer is the most common type of cancer in men.
According to Cancer Research UK, more than 52,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer every year and there are more than 12,000 deaths.
More than three-quarters (78%) of men diagnosed with the disease survive for more than 10 years, but this percentage has barely changed over the past decade in the UK, mainly as the disease is detected at a relatively late stage.
In England, for example, nearly half of all prostate cancers are detected at stage three of four (stage four is the last stage).
Vincent Gnanapragasam, Professor of Urology at Cambridge University, said: “When most people think about prostate cancer symptoms, they think about problems with peeing or needing to pee more frequently, particularly at night. .
“This misperception has lasted for decades, despite very little evidence, and potentially prevents us from collecting cases at an early stage.”
Prostate enlargement can cause urinary problems often included in public health messages, but evidence suggests this is rarely due to prostate malignancies, according to the researchers.
Rather, research suggests that the prostate is smaller in prostate cancer cases.
‘We urgently need to recognize that information currently being provided to the public risks giving men a false sense of security if they have no urinary symptoms,’ said Professor Gnanapragasam.
“We must emphasize that prostate cancer can be a silent or asymptomatic disease, particularly in its treatable stages.
“Waiting for urinary symptoms can mean missing the opportunity to contract the disease when it is curable.
“Men shouldn’t be afraid to talk to their GP about getting tested and the value of a PSA test, especially if they have a history of prostate cancer in their family or have other risk factors such as being blacks or mixed blacks ethnicity “.