We won't beat prostate cancer until men learn to talk about it

News that deaths from prostate cancer have overtaken those from breast cancer for the first time – with one man dying of it every 45 minutes – should be a wake-up call.

I've spent my life studying and treating prostate cancer and then, aged 62, was myself diagnosed with it. In December, I celebrated five years free of the disease.

But more needs to be done to improve the prognosis for everyone.

Celebrities

With names like Kylie Minogue and Angelina Jolie involved, it's no surprise that the breast cancer lobby has been so powerful, receiving twice as much in government and charity funding as prostate cancer.

Events like Movember have helped the cause, but a glamorous, David Beckham-type champion for prostate cancer could be a big motivator both in attracting public money and galvanising people to fund-raise.

Testing

I could have been just another statistic if my cancer hadn't been picked up early with a PSA test. There is currently no national screening programme for prostate cancer – as there is for breast cancer – because the PSA check can be unreliable (some call it the Promoter of Stress and Anxiety test).

But we are getting better at figuring out who needs to be treated and who doesn't. In the future we will be able to identify those men who are genetically predisposed to prostate cancer, and put much more effort into monitoring them. Better funding could make this a reality sooner.

Awareness

One of the great successes of the breast cancer campaigns has been getting the message across about self checking. This isn't so straightforward with prostate cancer, indeed, the disease is often symptomless until at an advanced stage. However, men should be encouraged to know the symptoms – such as difficulty peeing or needing to pee more often.

Treatment

Breast cancer tends to strike women at a younger age than prostate cancer, and so it can be catastrophic for them and their family.

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Prostate cancer is most commonly diagnosed between 65 and 69 – but just because it happens to older men we shouldn't accept it. It is painful, life-changing, and life-taking. All the current treatments carry the risk of major side effects, which can impact sex life and continence. We need better surgery, better drugs and in the end better palliative care.

Attitude

I wasn't embarrassed to talk about having prostate cancer, but I tend to hang out with urologists. Unfortunately, the problem of men being reluctant to talk about health issues persists, especially because of the squirm factor of the investigations and treatment.

I'd love to see more men talking about prostate cancer, and learning that with early diagnosis and early treatment you can, like me, be cured and enjoy a good, long life.

Professor Roger Kirby is the medical director of The Prostate Centre, vice president of Prostate Cancer UK and President of The Urology Foundation.

The Telegraph, London