Two thirds of British men with a family history of prostate cancer are unaware of the danger they face as a result of inheriting harmful genes, research has shown.
Men are 2.5 times more likely to develop prostate cancer if the disease has affected their father or brother.
Yet 66 per cent of men in this position are not aware of their increased risk, according to research by the Prostate Cancer UK charity.
The findings, to be presented today at the Public Health England Cancer Data and Outcomes Conference in Manchester, suggest there is a ‘startling’ lack of awareness about the disease among British men.
Each year around 46,700 new cases of prostate cancer are diagnosed in the UK and more than 11,200 men die from the disease.
One in every eight British men will develop the disease in their lifetime, a figure that rises to one in four among black men.
The cancer is easily dealt with if diagnosed early – 99 per cent of men whose tumour is spotted at a very early stage survive for at least ten years.
But if the disease is diagnosed late this survival rate drops to just 22 per cent.
There is no national screening programme for prostate cancer, but men over the age of 50 are eligible for a ‘PSA’ blood test which gives doctors a rough idea of whether they are at risk.
If this gives a positive result further scans or biopsies give a definitive diagnosis, and the tumour can be easily dealt with, often with surgery or radiotherapy.
Yet if the tumour is not spotted because a PSA test is not used, men often only find out about their cancer when they start displaying symptoms, by which time the cancer may have spread, making it far harder to treat.
The new study was based on an analysis of Public Health England cancer data and surveys of 1,901 adult British men and 402 GPs.
It revealed although 90 per cent of GPs are aware of the familial link to prostate cancer, only one in ten is likely to ask their male patients if any of their relatives have had prostate cancer.
Some 46 per cent of GPs said this was because of time pressure during appointments, or the need to prioritise other health concerns.
But experts said if patients themselves raised the issue, GPs would make time.
The charity’s chief executive Angela Culhane said: ‘There’s no denying that GPs in the UK today face tremendous pressure to start conversations with patients regarding an ever-growing list of medical conditions.
‘We need men to feel empowered to take control of their own health, find out their family history and pro-actively ask their GP whether they need tests for the disease due to their risk of developing it.
‘Currently this isn’t happening nearly enough and the increased risk due to family history of prostate cancer is being dangerously overlooked by both men and their GPs.
‘Too many men are walking around completely blind to the serious danger they could face. This must change.’
She added: ‘Every single one of us can do our bit to reduce the number of men who lose their lives to prostate cancer every year in the UK.
‘This Sunday, Father’s Day, ask your dads, brothers, grand-dads, husbands, partners and friends about prostate cancer and urge them to book an appointment with their doctor if they have a family history of the disease.