Early diagnosis key to fighting prostate cancer – Health Minister

Date published: 16 March 2022

Health Minister Robin Swann and former police Assistant Chief Constable Alan McQuillan have joined forces to help raise awareness of prostate cancer.

The Health Minister and Mr McQuillan, who was diagnosed with prostate cancer in November 2021, met with senior medical staff at the Cancer Centre, Belfast City Hospital today.

Speaking following the meeting, Minister Swann said: “Firstly I want to thank Alan for using his own experience to raise awareness of prostate cancer and potentially help other men.

“We know that early diagnosis is key to fighting this disease, however the pandemic has resulted in fewer men coming forward to their GP to get tested for prostate cancer. Therefore there will be men in Northern Ireland right now with undiagnosed cancer. So please listen to this message, check yourself and if you have concerns, contact your GP. Do not downplay symptoms or put off speaking to your GP. The earlier cancer is detected the quicker it is treated which can lead to better outcomes.”

Prostate cancer is one of the most common types of cancer in Northern Ireland with around 1,100 men diagnosed with it each year.

Minister Swann said: “Statistics around diagnosis of prostate cancer are worrying and while survival rates have improved significantly we believe we can do better. We are very clear that it is our ambition to build a world class service for people in Northern Ireland who have any type of cancer and we aim to do this through our new cancer strategy which will be published shortly.

“The strategy aims to ensure that everyone in Northern Ireland, wherever they live, has equitable and timely access to the most effective, evidence-based referral, diagnosis, treatment, support and person centred cancer care."

Sharing his experience, Mr McQuillan, said: “For some time I had been having what seemed minor symptoms. My father had lived with the slow growing type of prostate cancer for almost 20 years so I just put the symptoms down to getting older. I wasn’t really worried and when I was finally diagnosed it was too late. The cancer was well established and mine is an unusually aggressive type that kills people quite quickly and cannot be stopped.

“Most prostate cancers aren’t like that and, if they are caught early, they can be stopped or contained to give you years more life. So if you have any symptoms contact your GP – or if your partner has symptoms, please nag them until they contact their GP.

Sometimes it’s not cancer and you will have peace of mind that you are OK – but in other cases it will be cancer and the sooner you get it the better your chances.”

Professor Gerry Hanna is a consultant in Clinical Oncology and the Northern Ireland Cancer Centre’s Clinical Director.  He outlined the symptoms that people should look out for. “The earlier prostate cancer is diagnosed, the more treatable it can be therefore it is really important to be aware of the symptoms. If we know what is normal for ourselves it is much easier to spot any changes. If you do have any concerns or notice any changes, speak to your GP."

Signs to look out for, include:

•           needing to urinate more frequently, often during the night

•           needing to rush to the toilet

•           difficulty in starting to pee (hesitancy)

•           straining or taking a long time while peeing

•           weak flow

•           feeling that your bladder has not emptied fully

•           blood in urine or blood in semen.

    Notes to editors: 

    1. Prostate Cancer UK online checker is available: Check your risk in 30 seconds | Prostate Cancer UK
    2. For media enquiries please contact the DoH Press Office by email pressoffice@health-ni.gov.uk.
    3. Follow us on Twitter @healthdpt
    4. The Executive Information Service operates an out of hours service For Media Enquiries Only between 1800hrs and 0800hrs Monday to Friday and at weekends and public holidays. The duty press officer can be contacted on 028 9037 8110.

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