Prostate cancer screening urged

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UP TO 30 PER CENT of men over 50 have undiagnosed cancer of the prostate, according to government figures, and calls for a national screening programme in Britain are increasing, writes Celia Hall.

Rates for new cases of this common male cancer are 50.8 per 100,000 of the population compared with 17.3 for cancer of the cervix in women - for whom there is a national programme, which began informally in the 1960s.

But the issues are more complex. Prostate cancers grow at varying speeds. They may cause no problems and not spread for years. Early detection followed by radical surgery can lead to impotence and incontinence in relatively young men. There is increasing evidence that this has occurred in America where screening is developing in a piecemeal way, largely in response to demand by men, fuelled by cancer fears, and supported by doctors alert to the possibilities of litigation.

In his latest annual report on public health in Britain, Dr Kenneth Calman, the chief medical officer, says that cancer of the prostate is unusual in men under 50 and common in men over 70.

There can be no symptoms or there may be symptoms similar for the common condition in older men called benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). This is a non-malignant enlargement of the prostate gland. Men also experience problems urinating.