Prostate cancer becomes the most COMMON cancer in England

Prostate cancer becomes the most COMMON cancer in England after being diagnosed 50,000 times in 2018, statistics reveal

  • NHS statistics show prostate cancer is now more common than breast cancer
  • More men going to the doctor has led to higher diagnosis rates, experts say 
  • Experts say Stephen Fry’s openness about his disease helped raise awareness

Prostate cancer is now the most common cancer in England and was diagnosed more often than breast cancer for the first time in 2018, statistics have revealed.

There were 49,029 cases of prostate cancer diagnosed in men in England, compared with 47,476 cases of breast cancer and 38,996 of lung cancer.

Cancers overall rose by a fifth from 2008 with 316,680 people diagnosed in 2018, up from 266,492 in 2008.

The data also shows that there were more cancers diagnosed in 2018 in men and boys than in women and girls – a total of 165,228 compared with 151,452.

Officials say more men getting tested and feeling comfortable speaking to their doctor is improving diagnosis rates, possibly helped along by high-profile cases like Stephen Fry, who was open about his experience with the disease.

But they warn the NHS is under crippling pressure and people’s treatment waiting times are suffering as a result.

Public health experts say Stephen Fry’s openness about his experience with prostate cancer raised awareness about the disease and men are becoming increasingly willing to visit their doctor with health problems (Fry, pictured in 2017)

The change was revealed today in cancer incidence statistics published by the NHS.

‘Today’s data shows that for the first time prostate cancer has become the most commonly diagnosed form of the disease,’ said Macmillan Cancer Support’s chief executive, Lynda Thomas.

‘Many of these people will require complex care as they live with cancer alongside other health conditions.

‘While it’s good news that more people are seeing their doctor to check for cancer, these increasing numbers come at a time when our NHS and social care services are hanging by a thread.

‘The pressure is piling up on hardworking staff and long waiting times for cancer diagnosis and treatment are testament to the devastating impact this is having on patients.’

Public Health England said the increase in registrations of invasive cancers in

men was mainly down to the ‘Fry and Turnbull effect’ in prostate cancer.

Stephen Fry and Bill Turnbull, a radio presenter, went public with their diagnoses in early 2018, raising awareness in the process.

Prostate cancer is a disease in which a tumour develops on the prostate gland, a small organ only men have where semen is produced before it’s mixed with sperm.

The prostate is between the genitals and the bladder and can be examined by inserting a finger into the man’s anus.

This examination may have been something which put men off seeing their doctors about the condition in the past, as well as the possibility of treatment making them unable to get an erection.

But many cases of prostate cancer are not life-threatening and men can either live with them and monitor them or have them treated.

Heather Blake, spokesperson for Prostate Cancer UK, said: ‘The dramatic increase in diagnoses between 2017 and 2018 is likely a reflection of the surge in referrals sparked by the announcement that prostate cancer had become the third biggest cancer killer and high-profile individuals such as Stephen Fry and Bill Turnbull sharing their experience of the disease.

‘It is a good thing that awareness of this killer disease is increasing, and more men are taking control by discussing it with their GP.’  


How many people does it kill?

Prostate cancer became a bigger killer than breast cancer for the first time, official statistics revealed last year. 

More than 11,800 men a year – or one every 45 minutes – are now killed by the disease in Britain, compared with about 11,400 women dying of breast cancer.

It means prostate cancer is behind only lung and bowel in terms of how many people it kills in Britain. In the US, the disease kills 26,000 each year.

Despite this, it receives less than half the research funding of breast cancer – while treatments for the disease are trailing at least a decade behind.

How quickly does it develop? 

Prostate cancer usually develops slowly, so there may be no signs someone has it for many years, according to the NHS. 

If the cancer is at an early stage and not causing symptoms, a policy of ‘watchful waiting’ or ‘active surveillance’ may be adopted. 

Some patients can be cured if the disease is treated in the early stages.

But if it diagnosed at a later stage, when it has spread, then it becomes terminal and treatment revolves around relieving symptoms.

Thousands of men are put off seeking a diagnosis because of the known side effects from treatment, including erectile dysfunction.

Tests and treatment

Tests for prostate cancer are haphazard, with accurate tools only just beginning to emerge. 

There is no national prostate screening programme as for years the tests have been too inaccurate.

Doctors struggle to distinguish between aggressive and less serious tumours, making it hard to decide on treatment.

Men over 50 are eligible for a ‘PSA’ blood test which gives doctors a rough idea of whether a patient is at risk.

But it is unreliable. Patients who get a positive result are usually given a biopsy which is also not foolproof. 

Scientists are unsure as to what causes prostate cancer, but age, obesity and a lack of exercise are known risks. 

Anyone with any concerns can speak to Prostate Cancer UK’s specialist nurses on 0800 074 8383 or visit

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