Prostate cancer is the most common type of cancer found in men, with one in eight in the UK diagnosed in their lifetime. It’s a sobering figure – yet the numbers are doubly concerning for black men who have a rate of one in four.
It’s not known why their risk is so much higher, though genetics are thought to play a part. It’s an issue charity Prostate Cancer UK is trying to find out more about, launching the PROFILE study in partnership with Movember, and urging black men aged 40-69 who haven’t had prostate cancer to take part.
One man who’s signed up is former England and Manchester United star Paul Parker.
The defender turned pundit, now 57, has a very personal reason for doing so – his dad Louis, 80, was diagnosed with the disease last year.
Paul is encouraging men, especially black men in the higher risk category, to put their embarrassment aside, find out about the dangers and speak to their doctors.
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“My dad had an issue that forced him to go to the GP, I don’t think many men of that era do that unless they have to,” he says.
In Louis’s case, his family made sure he sought help. “My mum and my brother ground him down really, got him to the doctors and, lo and behold, they picked up prostate cancer.”
Fortunately, the disease was caught early. “The timing couldn’t have been better,” says Paul.
“The cancer was encapsulated in the prostate so he was very, very fortunate and only needed to have a course of radiotherapy.”
After living abroad in Singapore for eight years, Paul was thankful to be home, and able to help mum Myra and siblings Doreen, Denis and Colin as Louis went through treatment.
“I was able to drive him to radiotherapy instead of relying on them, then relaying it back to me thousands of miles away,” he says. “When you become a parent yourself, you understand what your parents did for you and you want to give something back.”
Paul, who’s married to Nicola, has a daughter, Georgie, 33, and two sons, Max, 24, and Jake, 21, and is uncle to West Ham defender Ben Johnson.
He says the men in his family weren’t aware of the one in four statistic until Paul started fundraising for Prostate Cancer UK.
“Obviously prostate cancer can affect all men, but when it comes to black men, there’s a 50 per cent difference. That increase in risk is pretty shocking. So when I was offered the chance to do the PROFILE study, I said yes straight away.”
The study involves having an initial assessment at the Royal Marsden in Chelsea or Sutton, and regular blood tests for a minimum of five years.
Professor Ros Eeles, who is leading the study, says: “By finding out more about genetic changes that influence prostate cancer risk, the PROFILE study will help us understand why men of African and Afro-Caribbean descent develop it at twice the rate of other men and it will help us identify better tests to screen patients and detect the disease earlier.”
Paul is optimistic that research will lead to better outcomes. “I hope this study means that by the time my sons and grandson are older, things will have improved.” His message to men is that it’s worth overcoming embarrassment.
“I know it’s hard for men to get help – I put off having a hip replacement for two years and was so embarrassed about my limp I became a little bit of a recluse.
“But after everything we’ve been through with lockdown and the pandemic, people are ready to enjoy their lives.
“I think that men have really got to have to look at their personal health and just make sure everything is OK.”
Paul says that fundraising with Prostate Cancer UK has really brought home the gravity of the disease. “I did a 145-mile fundraising bike ride from Stratford to Amsterdam in 2019 and it was the hardest thing I’ve done, physically and mentally, since I packed in playing,” he says.
“But it was so tough that everyone on the ride was sharing the pain, and talking about the people they know who’ve had prostate cancer, the brothers, dads, uncles, grandads.
“At another event, an immaculate gentleman with young children got up and started speaking about prostate cancer. It was incredible, what he was saying about it. Then somebody told me that the gentleman’s cancer was terminal.
“I’m not an emotional person, it takes a lot to get me going, but that did. His children deserve more time with him. It made me think, I’m going to get tested.”
- To find out more about prostate cancer – or to take part in the PROFILE study – go to Prostate Cancer UK’s website (prostatecanceruk.org) or call the charity’s specialist nurses on 0800 074 838.