Pathologists around the world will be interested to learn that, for the first time in the UK, prostate cancer has surpassed breast cancer in numbers of deaths annually and nearly 40% of prostate cancer diagnoses occur in stages three and four

Early detection of prostate cancer, and the ability to identify its more aggressive forms, are important goals for every nation’s health system. However, a new study in the United Kingdom (UK) will be of interest to all anatomic pathologists handling prostate biopsies. Researchers determined that late diagnosis of prostate cancer is an issue that should be addressed by healthcare policymakers in the UK.

In 2015, deaths due to prostate cancer surpassed those of breast cancer in the UK. According to data from Cancer Research UK, this trend continued into 2016 with 11,631 deaths from prostate cancer and 11,538 deaths from breast cancer. The trend continued even though breast cancer saw roughly 8,000 more new cases in 2015, according to the same data.

Now, a report from Orchid—a UK male cancer charity—highlights a trend that should interest medical laboratories and histopathology (anatomic pathology in the US) groups that analyze prostate cancer samples. They found that 37% of UK prostate cancer cases involved diagnoses in stages three or four.

Late-Stage Diagnosis of Prostate Cancer: The US and UK Compared

“With prostate cancer due to be the most prevalent cancer in the UK within the next 12 years, we are facing a potential crisis in terms of diagnostics, treatment, and patient care,” stated Rebecca Porta, Chief Executive of Orchid, in a press release. “Urgent action needs to be taken now if we are to be in a position to deliver world class outcomes for prostate cancer patients and their families in the future.”

Orchid Chief Executive Rebecca Porta (far right) and her team are shown above receiving a check from the Industrial Agents Society (AIS) to help fund the charity’s research into male specific cancers, such as prostate cancer. (Photo copyright: AIS.)

The latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on prostate cancer and mortality rates in the US shows an interesting picture. In 2014, 172,258 men received a prostate cancer diagnosis. However, deaths from prostate cancer were at 28,343.

According to Statista, an international statistics portal, the UK is home to more than 32.3-million males. And, Statista’s data shows the US is home to 159.1-million males. This implies that despite the US having nearly five times the number of males, the number of prostate cancer deaths/year in the UK is significantly higher in relation to population size.

Cancer Research UK notes that despite decreasing by 13% in the last decade, prostate cancer mortality rates are still 21% higher than in the 1970s.

Awareness and Early Detection Key Components in the Fight Against Cancer

A study published in BMC Public Health offers one possible explanation for this disparity.

“When compared to analogous countries in Europe, Canada, and Australia, older adults in the UK have markedly different survival outcomes,” noted lead author of the study Sara Macdonald, PhD, Lecturer in Primary Care at the Institute of Health and Wellbeing at the University of Glasgow, Scotland.

“Poorer outcomes in the UK are at least in part attributable to later stage diagnoses,” she explained. “Older adults should be vigilant about cancer. Yet, this is not reflected in the news media coverage of cancer risk. Taken together, invisibility, inaccuracy, and information overload build a skewed picture that cancer is a disease which affects younger people.”

While treatment options have improved in the past decade, early detection is a key part of successful treatment—especially as prostate cancer has both aggressive and slow variants. Effective timely health screening also is of critical concern.

In the US, however, prolific prostatic-specific antigen (PSA) testing and other screenings for chronic disease—particularly within the elderly population—is under increased scrutiny and criticism, which Dark Daily reported on in April. (See, “Kaiser Health News Labels Routine Clinical Laboratory Testing and Other Screening of Elderly Patients an ‘Epidemic’ in US,” April 11, 2018.)

New Tools to Detect Prostate Cancer

Faster diagnosis and the ability to detect whether a prostate cancer is slow or aggressive could help to shift these numbers around the world.

According to BBC News, the NHS hopes to reduce diagnosis times and make the screening process less invasive by using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Hashim Ahmed, PhD, Chairman of Urology, Imperial College London, told BBC News, “Fast access to high-quality prostate MRI allows many men to avoid invasive biopsies as well as allowing precision biopsy in those men requiring it to find high-risk tumors much earlier.”

A team from the University of Dundee is trialing a shear wave elastography imaging (SWEI) process to detect prostate tumors as well. Speaking with The Guardian, team leader and Chair of the School of Medicine at The University of Dundee, Dr. Ghulam Nabi, noted, “We have been able to show a stark difference in results between our technology and existing techniques such as MRI. The technique has picked up cancers which MRI did not reveal. We can now see with much greater accuracy what tissue is cancerous, where it is, and what level of treatment it needs. This is a significant step forward.”

Should these tools prove successful, they might help to reverse current trends in the UK and offer greater insight and options for the histopathology groups there, as well as the medical laboratories, oncologists, and other medical specialists helping to treat cancer.

Until then, raising awareness and streamlining both detection and treatment protocols will remain a critical concern, not just in the UK, but around the world as the human population continues to age.

—Jon Stone

Related Information:

Prostate Cancer: Four in 10 Cases Diagnosed Late, Charity Says

New Report Reveals 4 in 10 Prostate Cancer Cases Are Diagnosed Late and an Impending Crisis in Prostate Cancer Provision

Prostate Cancer Deaths Overtake Those from Breast Cancer

Cutting Prostate Cancer Diagnosis Times

Prostate Cancer on the Rise; Time to Revisit Guidelines?

More High-Risk Prostate Cancer Now in the US than Before

Prostate Cancer Breakthrough as UK Team Develops More Accurate Test

Mass Media and Risk Factors for Cancer: The Under-Representation of Age

Kaiser Health News Labels Routine Clinical Laboratory Testing and Other Screening of Elderly Patients an ‘Epidemic’ in US

Genetic Fingerprint Helps Researchers Identify Aggressive Prostate Cancer from Non-aggressive Types and Determine If Treatment Will Be Effective