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Biggest prostate cancer screening trial in decades to start in UK

Published: 20 November 2023

An innovative new £42m prostate cancer screening trial is set to get under way, co-funded by NIHR and Prostate Cancer UK.

Researchers will test new screening methods like MRI scans to find ways of detecting the country’s most common male cancer earlier.

Hundreds of thousands of men across the country will participate in the first-of-its-kind trial. Around 1 in 10 participants are set to be Black men who have a much higher prostate cancer risk.

Currently prostate cancer has no screening programme. The disease usually has no symptoms until it has grown large and may be more difficult to treat and, sadly, 12,000 men die of it every single year in the UK.

More than 52,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer every year in the UK on average – that’s 144 men every day. Around 490,000 men are currently living with and after prostate cancer.
A way of effectively screening for prostate cancer could help diagnose men before their cancer spreads and help save their lives.

The new trial has the potential to see new screening methods give more accurate results than current blood tests such as the PSA (prostate-specific antigen) test. These tests can miss some cancers and often suggest prostate cancer when no cancer exists.

Crucially, screening could also spot the disease even when no symptoms are displayed.

Innovative screening methods

The TRANSFORM trial is due to start in Spring 2024, with recruitment likely to begin next Autumn.

The Government is investing £16m for the trial through NIHR. Prostate Cancer UK, who have led development of the trial, will provide £26m.

1 in 4 Black men will develop prostate cancer – double the risk of other men. Therefore, to ensure the trial helps reduce their risk of dying from this disease, 1 in 10 men invited to participate will be Black men. Participating men in the screening trial will be aged 50-75, with Black men eligible from the lower age range of 45-75.

The government has already opened 127 community diagnostic centres to offer quicker, more convenient checks outside of hospitals for conditions such as cancer, with over 5 million additional tests delivered so far.

Professor Lucy Chappell, CEO of NIHR, said: “New research into harnessing innovative screening methods is crucial in finding ways to detect this serious disease earlier, in the race against time to save lives.

“That’s why setting up this landmark new trial in partnership between NIHR and Prostate Cancer UK is so important.

“Together we can aim to generate high quality long-term evidence to benefit men at risk of developing this condition, and to inform those who plan and deliver NHS services of how best to test for the disease."

Laura Kerby, Chief Executive at Prostate Cancer UK, said: “12,000 men die of prostate cancer each year and it’s the most common cancer that doesn’t have a national screening programme.

“It’s about time that changed. That’s why we’re launching our biggest and most ambitious trial ever. It will finally give us the answers we need to develop a routine testing system and save thousands of men each year.

“Prostate Cancer UK's unique focus and expertise made us the only organisation that could really deliver this paradigm-shifting trial, and we’re delighted that the Government has backed our vision to revolutionise diagnosis.”

Health and Social Care Secretary Victoria Atkins said: “Cancer survival rates continue to improve in the UK, with the disease being diagnosed at an earlier stage more often. But more must be done.

“Our hope is that this funding will help to save the lives of thousands more men through advanced screening methods that can catch prostate cancer as early as possible.”

The NIHR funding is provided through the Health Technology Assessment (HTA) Programme.

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