HL Deb 01 July 2002 vol 637 cc4-7

2.44 p.m.

Lord Ezra

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What action they propose to take in respect of prostate cancer in the light of the information published by the Institute of Cancer Research on 27th May.

Baroness Andrews

My Lords, the information published by the Institute of Cancer Research on 27th May highlights the importance of prostate cancer and the efforts being made to understand the disease. That is why the Government started the NHS prostate cancer programme in September 2000. It is also why the Government are increasing the money spent on directly-funded research to £4.2 million a year by 2003.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that Answer and welcome her to the Dispatch Box. Bearing in mind that 10,000 men are killed by this dread disease every year, is it not regrettable that, according to the report of the Institute of Cancer Research, to which the noble Baroness referred, prostate cancer research is 10 years behind equivalent research for other major cancers? Also, what progress has been made in replacing the PSA test? That is a matter of great concern. It is widely used but does not sufficiently indicate aggressive forms of the disease. I should point out that I asked this Question over two years ago, on 23rd May 2000, and it appears at col. 639 of Hansard.

Baroness Andrews

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his kind words and much appreciate them.

It is always difficult to anticipate and read across from one form of research to another. A survey carried out between 1989 and 1998 showed that our researchers were producing 5 per cent of the total research output. Therefore we are holding our own arid the £4.2 million we are committing will certainly help.

As the noble Lord rightly said, he has drawn attention to the PSA test in the House before and we are grateful for that. But two problems are associated with the test. First, raised PSA levels do not always indicate cancer and the test misses cancers which are present when PSA levels are low; secondly, the test does not distinguish between aggressive and slow-moving cancers. A great deal of research has been funded over the past year or two, of which I shall be glad to give the noble Lord written evidence, including specific studies on the PSA test. We are also standardising the test across the UK so that it is of a uniform quality. That will also make a difference.

Baroness Pitkeathley

My Lords, will my noble friend agree that raising awareness among at-risk groups, particularly with this form of cancer, is of the utmost importance? What are the Government's plans for further raising public awareness?

Baroness Andrews

My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right. Prostate cancer is problematic because of the element of embarrassment associated with it. But we are making progress. In July 2001 the prostate cancer management research programme was introduced. Its intention was to provide an informed choice for men. A pack is being circulated among GPs, who were consulted. It gives a lot of information and enables men to make an informed choice on both the tests and the treatment, which in itself is problematic. That too will help GPs. We hope it will be in the surgeries by the summer. In relation to other forms of raising awareness, some interesting research is about to begin on Afro-Caribbean men who have a high incidence of the disease. It is imperative that we get the results of that research out as fast and as effectively as possible.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, in view of the research which consistently shows that processed tomato products, as opposed to fresh tomato products, are very beneficial and that the taking of tomato juice or tomato sauce on a regular basis is an effective preventive not only for prostate cancer but also for breast cancer, will the Minister suggest to the Department of Health that through health education they encourage people to go on to tomato juice?

Baroness Andrews

My Lords, I shall do my best. One of the problems connected with research related to diet is that people are susceptible to making either the right or wrong choices. However, I shall certainly take the suggestion back to the department.

Lord Morris of Manchester

My Lords, while I warmly acknowledge all the help given by my noble friend Lord Hunt in response to the concern expressed—more especially by our good and noble friend Lady Howells of St Davids about the finding that black men are much more prone than others to prostate cancer and in its most virulent form, can my noble friend Lady Andrews say what recent further progress has been made in increasing research in this important policy area? Finally, I, too, rejoice at the presence of my noble friend at the Dispatch Box this afternoon.

Baroness Andrews

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord. The noble Baroness raised the question in the House a year ago. Research into the incidence of the disease among Afro-Caribbean men is about to start at Bristol and in London, as is research on other risk factors connected with genetic and family history. So we have made progress.

Baroness Northover

My Lords, does the Minister agree that we need a major expansion of research—as my noble friend Lord Ezra said—so that we can rapidly develop a screening test which is better able to predict the aggressive forms of the disease? Does she also agree that for too long the cancer charities have borne the major cost of cancer research, and that it is about time that the Government made a reality that others would recognise their aim of trying to match what the cancer charities have put in?

Baroness Andrews

My Lords, since 1999 we have increased spending on prostate cancer by 20 times to the present figure of £4.2 billion—by four times in the past four years. We are delighted to work in partnership with Cancer Research UK and all the cancer charities. They part-funded and helped with the prostate management cancer research programme. They do invaluable work. But we are spending significantly more than we were.

Baroness Noakes

My Lords, I welcome the Minister to the Dispatch Box for a full House. A smaller group of noble Lords had the pleasure of the noble Baroness at the Dispatch Box on a more select occasion recently.

Can the Minister tell us how many men over 50 have had a PSA test following the department's informed choice project? And is the department satisfied with the take-up?

Baroness Andrews

My Lords, I cannot give the figure for the number of men over 50 who have already had the PSA test. This year's informed choice programme will be properly evaluated so that we shall have those figures in a year's time. If there are figures, of which I am simply ignorant, I should be happy to look for them.

Baroness O'Cathain

My Lords, in view of the figure of £4.2 billion being spent on prostate cancer research, can the Minister tell us what is the comparable figure spent on AIDS research in this country? The figures given today for the number of people who have died are quite horrific.

Baroness Andrews

My Lords, it is £4.2 million. I am afraid that I do not have the comparative figures for AIDS research. I think that all noble Lords would agree that the figure of 10,000 avoidable deaths is far too high. We are committed to a national screening programme if and when we have the improvements in testing and treatment.