Norfolk cancer group concerned men missing out on vital blood tests

A Norfolk cancer support group says it is unacceptable men are still being refused a simple blood test which could save lives, and many men with prostate cancer continue to slip through the gaps.

All men over the age of 50 should be able to request a test which can indicate whether they may have prostate cancer.

But in one case in Norfolk a man who lost his father and grandfather to the disease, and whose elder brother also had it, was refused a test by his GP because he had no symptoms.

The man was able to have a test, thanks to the Norfolk and Waveney Prostate Cancer Support Group arranging three mass testing sessions in Norwich, Great Yarmouth and Fakenham, and he was found to have the highest level of prostate specific antigens (PSA) in his blood sample out of the total 642 men tested.

As the PSA test is merely an indicator, rather than a diagnostic tool, further tests were carried out and the man is now currently being treated for advanced prostate cancer.

Ray Cossey, chairman of the support group, said: 'Clearly, a few GPs are opposed to giving PSA tests, unless a patient has the classic symptoms, usually associated with the possible presence of prostate cancer.

'However, you can have prostate cancer without any obvious symptoms; just as a man can have one or more symptoms and yet not have the cancer.

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Of the 642 men tested, 42 were found to have abnormally high levels of prostate specific antigens in their blood sample. Of these 19 (3pc of the men tested) have subsequently been diagnosed as having prostate cancer – although as the tests were carried out in complete confidentiality the charity only knows about those cases were men have informed them this was the case, and it could be higher.

A further 37 men had levels which it was recommended should be further monitored at regular intervals.

Mr Cossey said the support group was concerned with the number of instances, reported to them by some of the men tested, where their own GP refused them a PSA test, despite the Department of Health guidelines, issued to all GPs, that every man over the age of 50 may have a PSA test if requested.

While each of the three testing sessions attracted a similar number of men, the Fakenham session produced by far the greater number of abnormally high PSA levels and, subsequently, the most diagnosed cases of cancer. The support group believes this may well be because, with the Fakenham session, they specifically appealed for men over 50 who had a direct family blood-line history of prostate or breast cancer.

Mr Cossey said: 'Reputable scientific studies have shown that men with a family history of these two cancers are several times more likely to contract prostate cancer and the Fakenham results seem to possibly confirm this.'

Alistair Lipp, medical director of NHS Norfolk and Waveney, said: 'There is national guidance for GPs to follow on PSA testing in men who do not have symptoms of prostate cancer. There is an increased risk of developing prostate cancer with a family history of prostate cancer and men with urinary symptoms should seek early advice from their GPs.'

The support group supports targeted testing of all men who have a family history of prostate cancer and urges any man over 45 who falls into this category to ask his GP for a PSA test.

It is now intending to stage another session in April or May next year.

In order to help alleviate an increase in referrals and workload for the urology department at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, the support group has funded an additional bladder scanner.

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