Men with prostate cancer face a lack of access to specialist NHS nurses and are often denied the latest and best drug treatments, a new report has warned.
Prostate cancer patients also receive less help with controlling pain and a lower overall standard of care than patients with other major cancers such as breast cancer, it found.
The report also shows only a third of prostate cancer patients discussed the possibility of taking part in clinical trials – despite benefits such as newer and potentially more effective drugs and more regular check ups and tests.
Speaking at the launch of the report by the male cancer charity Orchid, Paul Burstow MP, the Lib Dem former health and cancer minister, said this was a form of “discrimination” against men.
He added that prostate cancer patients should not have to put up with “second-rate services” and said significant progress in treating the disease must not “breed complacency”.
The charity called for the number of clinical nurse specialists, who help cancer patients understand information while providing vital care, should increase by half.
Currently there are only 280 clinical nurse specialists to care for all men with urological cancers. This needs to rise to 400 to match the numbers for women with breast cancer, a spokesman for the charity said.
Prostate cancer is the most common male cancer in England. An estimated one in eight men will develop it at some point in their lives and around 10,800 men died from prostate cancer in England in 2012.
More than 41,000 new cases are diagnosed every year compared with around 50,000 men and women diagnosed with breast cancer.
The report said the role of clinical nurse specialists (CNS) is at risk due to financial pressures on the NHS – and says the Government has shown “little appetite to investigate”.
Despite the shortage many nurses may face pressure to carry out general tasks.
In terms of drugs, the report says even those already approved by NICE such as Docetaxel and Abiraterone are not “made available across the NHS in an equitable manner”.
Applications for prostate cancer treatment to NHS England’s Cancer Drugs Fund – which provides funding for treatments rejected or not yet approved by NICE – are “consistently high”.
Mr Burstow MP said the report “shines a light on worrying areas of unmet need”.
“Why should men with prostate cancer have to cope with second-rate services, a lack of vital support and limited access to world class drug treatments and clinical trials?” he said.
He said the lack of discussion about clinical trials reflected “a huge unacceptable, inexplicable variation, dare I say even a discrimination against men when we know these discussions can lead to more people wanting to take part in trials.”
He added: “We do require health providers to ask ‘are we doing everything we can to make sure men are getting access to cancer treatments they need as much as women?’ It’s something the NHS England cancer tsar should be looking at.”
Deaths from prostate cancer have declined steadily in relation to the number of cases over the past 20 years due to earlier diagnosis, better use of treatments and improved NHS services.
But the report makes clear that serious problems remain and makes 15 recommendations on prostate cancer including:
:: NHS England should ensure care plans for all patients are drawn up by a team including a surgeon and medical and clinical oncologists
:: The Government should ensure patients have access to a uro-oncology Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) and review CNS caseloads and numbers
:: NHS England should ensure NICE guidance and guidelines are implemented – particularly in respect to the latest drug treatments
:: Government should work with NICE to ensure the Coalition’s commitment to ensuring patients get the treatment their doctors think they need is delivered
:: Department of Health should encourage participation in high quality clinical trials
Rebecca Porta, Orchid’s chief executive, said she hopes the report will lead to policy changes so that men “get the support they need”.
“It’s absolutely imperative that patients have access to good quality treatments that will not only manage their disease but also improve their quality of life,” she said.
Patient experience comparison:
Staff not doing all they could to help control pain – prostate cancer patients 22pc, breast cancer patients 17pc
Written information on side effects not given – prostate 17pc, breast 11pc
Patient felt care was neither very good nor excellent – prostate 13pc, breast 10pc
Patient’s family did not have opportunity to talk to doctor – prostate 34pc, breast 30pc
Patient not told they could bring a friend when first told they had cancer – prostate 28pc, breast 19pc
Hospital staff did not give information about support groups – prostate 17pc, breast 12pc
Patients not given name of clinical nurse specialist in charge of their care – prostate 13pc, breast 7pc