By Judith Potts5:58PM BST 27 Jul 2015
Published in The Daily TelegraphAs long as the NHS only recognises the unreliable PSA test as a method of diagnosing prostate cancer, men are dying unnecessarily
One of the reasons that awareness of prostate cancer has not reached the heights of breast cancer is the lack of a screening programme. Currently, men have to rely on the PSA blood test and a digital rectal examination - neither of which is totally reliable. Indeed, many GPs are so concerned about the inaccuracy - which could lead to over-diagnosing and inflicting unnecessary and invasive tests - that they do not offer the PSA test at all. Or, worse still, the GP does not recognise the symptoms presented as a possible case of prostate cancer, putting "peeing issues" down to being "part of the ageing process".
Some charities offer screening programmes
After losing a family member and a friend to this disease, Graham Fulford decided to launch the Graham Fulford Charitable Trust, which is the beginning of a screening programme but entirely run by a charity. In the last ten years, the Trust has carried out 42,000 PSA blood tests, from which 800 diagnoses have been made.
Based in Warwick, the Trust hosts events across the country at venues including football clubs, race meetings and golf clubs. The latest venture is a drop-in clinic, offered in Warwick only - for now - on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
The Trust has a regular phlebotomist - Wendy Hodgkinson - who not only takes the blood but computerises the results, which means that trends in individuals, who return regularly, can be monitored. The tests are processed by David Baxter-Smith, (Retired) Consultant Urologist at Kidderminster Hospital and each man receives a green, amber or red letter with his results. Those with red letters are followed up after six months and those with amber after 12 months.
Mr Baxter-Smith (Retired) also analyses the results from the Leighton Hospital Prostate Cancer Support Group. Run by Gary Steele MBE and Ian Bonner, this is another locally-based group - this time in Crewe - which offers PSA testing at venues within the area.
To date, it is estimated that Mr Baxter-Smith (Retired) has analysed 50,000 samples from these organisations. Given that there are just under 42,000 prostate cancer diagnoses each year in the UK, the need for a reliable screening test has become urgent. If the work of these two charities and Mr Baxter-Smith is replicated anywhere else, please let me know so we can spread the word.
Medical Detection Dogs - more volunteers needed
One method which proves totally reliable - and is used in many hospitals around the world - but is still not accepted in the UK, is that of 'sniffed' detection by the Medical Detection Dogs.
Research on early detection of prostate cancer is on-going at the charity's unit in Milton Keynes, with the help of volunteers from the Warwick centre of Graham Fulford's Trust. Men attending on the third Thursday of each month are being asked to donate a urine sample to help train the dogs and become part of MDD's second, vitally important Prostate Cancer Study.
If we can find a common language that both dogs and humans can use to communicate, we can help unlock the life-saving information that may lead cancer sufferers to a full recovery
Graham says: "We are particularly keen to see whether there is any link between raised PSA scores and the findings of MDD. Whilst volunteers will not receive any direct feedback from the programme, I am confident it will help accelerate what might prove to be ground-breaking work." The aim is to raise the current level of samples to 50 a month. If you would like to become involved, please call 07831 156071. There is a donation of £10 towards the costs involved and any other donations would be very gratefully received by the Trust, because this is seriously important work and needs financial support to allow it to continue.
Helping to find new and improved ways for the dogs to detect early cancer through urine, breath or sweat and communicate this detection to humans, is the Open University's Animal Computer Interaction Laboratory in Milton Keynes. Working with the dogs and MDD's Rob Harris, Dr Clara Mancini is developing a 'canine interface' to enable the dogs to communicate the early signs of cancer in a more detailed way through a new prototype device. By modifying the original testing carousel and turning the metal plates into additional sensors, it enables the dogs to express degrees of certainty - not just 'yes' or 'no'. Close monitoring of the dogs at work showed that for a 'true' negative, the dog sniffed once only, putting more energy into investigating a positive sample - and also identified that each dog has an individual detecting style.
Dr Mancini says: "If we can find a common language that both dogs and humans can use to communicate, we can help unlock the life-saving information that may lead cancer sufferers to a full recovery."
The recent letter written by Dr Mancini to all OU alumni, asking for their financial help to raise the £45,000 needed to complete the research - and the accompanying creation of a toolkit of specially designed dog-friendly buttons and switches to enable the other half of MDD's dogs (the Support Dogs) to more easily do their job - has produced an amazing £37,500. To donate and help raise the last £8000 - you do not have to be an alumni of the OU - visit the website.
Why doesn't the NHS recognise the Medical Detection Dogs?
Men are dying unnecessarily, yet we have the proven, non-invasive urine test from the Medical Detection Dogs. Their results of 98 sensitivity over 900 samples far exceeds that of the PSA test and, with the support of eminent cancer doctors like Professor Karol Sikora and Mr. Iqbal Anjum, the charity's work must soon be recognised as the second-line cancer screening service.
Meanwhile, the PSA test is all that is recognised current by the NHS. Consequently, it is imperative that men over the age of 40 - particularly those with a family history of breast or prostate cancer - take themselves to be tested. Very importantly, too, in the words of Professor Frank Chinegwundoh (Clinical Trustee of TACKLE): "Studies have confirmed that black men in the UK have a three-fold greater risk of prostate cancer than their white counterparts."
Please do not take the GP's 'no' for an answer.
Again I find myself writing - Where would we be without the charities?
Organise your own testing event
Detection of prostate cancer at its earliest stage is the main aim of TACKLE - the prostate cancer charity which holds the umbrella over all the prostate cancer support groups in the UK - and the charity's objective is to increase the number of PSA testing events organised by its members. The charity also "seeks to ensure that men with prostate cancer always get the best treatment whatever the stage of their disease and strives to remove injustices in treatment pathways offered to prostate cancer patients."
If you would like to organise your own testing event, Graham Fulford and his team have put together a manual for guidance. Graham has partnered with The Doctors Laboratory and its website carries a brief film showing how to use the Tiny Blood Sample kit involved.
For all Graham Fulford Charitable Trust events please call Wendy on 07748614753. Drop-in clinics are held at at 66B Smith Street, Warwick CU34 4HU. For more information please call 07746614753 or 01606553097.