Could a small step for fourteen experts become a giant leap for Men United?

I watched the new Star Wars trailer the other day and it got me thinking that science fiction is getting ever closer to reality. Maybe not Wookies or lightsabers (much to every little boy’s – or even grown man’s – disappointment). But back when Star Wars was first released who could have imagined that today NASA would be getting ready to send people to Mars in the next 15 years or so? Continue reading

Researchers make molehills out of mountains to show their support and raise money for Movember

The amount of prostate cancer research we’ve been able to fund has increased massively over the last few years, thanks in no small part to support from the Movember Foundation. And we’re not the only ones to appreciate this – the researchers we’ve funded have also been incredibly enthusiastic in showing their support by raising funds for the campaign. Here are some highlights from this Movember.

First up are our very own Research team Mo Bros: Dr Iain Frame (Director of Research), Dr Matthew Hobbs (Deputy Director of Research) and Simon Grieveson (Head of Research Funding). Don’t they look dashing – even if they look a bit like the sort of gang you wouldn’t want to bump into in a dark alley.

The Prostate Cancer UK Research team mo bros: Matthew Hobbs, Iain Frame and Simon Griveson

The Prostate Cancer UK Research team Mo Bros: Matthew Hobbs, Iain Frame and Simon Grieveson

Iain said: “Prostate cancer research has come a long way in the last 10 years, but we’ve still got a long way to go. We need a better way to tell a man’s individual risk of developing prostate cancer. We need a way to tell the difference between aggressive, potentially fatal prostate cancer, and non-aggressive prostate cancer that won’t cause men any problems. And we need better treatments for men with advanced disease. The harsh reality is that we won’t be able to do any of that without more funding for research. So really, the question isn’t: ‘Why am I growing a mo?’ It’s more like: ‘Why wouldn’t I grow one given what can be achieved by doing so?’ Plus, my wife thinks it makes me look even more handsome.”

Meanwhile in Newcastle, Dr Kelly Coffey, one of our first Career Development Fellows, and her lab mates took part in the Newcastle MoRun, where Dr Coffey’s PhD student Mahsa won the ladies’ 5k. As if this wasn’t enough, they also joined in with the larger Northern Institute of Cancer Research (NICR) team in a weekly (and apparently very competitive!) bake sale and their annual Movember quiz night and raffle. The NICR team also celebrated a new arrival this Movember when Dr Anastasia Hepburn gave birth to her second son, James. Never ones to miss an opportunity to involve the whole team in their fundraising (no matter how young), they promptly started a sweepstake to guess baby James’ weight. Overall, this mustachioed team raised a fantastic £750.

Kelly Coffey's team at the mo run

Dr Kelly Coffey’s team at the Newcastle MoRun

Dr Coffey said: “The Newcastle Mo Run was the first run I’ve ever done, and was a huge challenge, but I got there – eventually! And we will all be back next year. Researchers at the Northern Institute for Cancer Research take fundraising activities very seriously. It helps to keep us grounded and to really appreciate how difficult it is to raise money to pay for expensive research endeavours. Considering it took us a month’s worth of activities to raise £750 and my grant for five years was for £688,000 it really makes you appreciate how much time and effort has gone into generating this money. My opinion is that if a charity puts their trust in you, it’s your responsibility to not only ensure that you’re successful, but also to support the charity in return in as many ways as you can.” Well done, and thanks to you all.

In Cardiff, Dr Jason Webber, our newest Career Development Fellow and three year Mo Bro, his mentor Dr Aled Clayton (two year Mo Bro) and his team-mate Dr Joanne Welton (four year Mo Sista) all showed their fuzzy-faced support.

Dr Jason Webber's Cardiff mo team

Dr Jason Webber’s Cardiff mo team

Dr Webber said: “As researchers we are incredibly grateful for the funding that we receive. We are therefore pleased to do what we can to help raise awareness for men’s health and support Movember and Prostate Cancer UK.”

Dr Michael Ladomery at the University of the West of England gave us a stage by stage update on his mo-gress:

Dr Michael Ladomery's Mo-progress

Dr Michael Ladomery’s mo-gress

He said: “I work in prostate cancer research and this sort of initiative is really valuable, so I want to contribute my bit! That’s why I am growing a moustache for the first time in my life. It is unsettling, unhygienic, itchy, and ugly. But all for a good cause!” Dr Ladomery’s experiment with a hairy face earned a very respectable £180 for the campaign. Great work – and thank you!

Finally, the 42-strong team (yes that’s right, 42) at the Belfast end of the Belfast-Manchester Movember Centre of Excellence have really pushed the boat out with their fundraising efforts this year, raising an awe-inspiring £2,640.

Queen's University Belfast's 42-strong team of Mo Bros and Mo Sistas

Mo Bros and Mo Sistas at Queen’s University Belfast

And they weren’t satisfied with the traditional grow a mo and get sponsored approach (although they did that too). They also held a bake-sale at a local business and convinced their local coffee suppliers (Clements and Starbucks) to wear fake moustaches and collect donations. The Mo Sistas donated money to buy and wear fake mos for ‘Fake Moustache Fridays’, one of the professors held a one-man James Joyce showcase (after all, he was a famous Irish Mo Bro) and as if that wasn’t enough, they climbed Everest twice in one night at an indoor climbing fundraiser!

Dr Sharon Eddie Parkinson, a post-doctoral researcher at the Centre of Cancer Research and Cell Biology at Queen’s University Belfast said: “As a Movember Centre of Excellence focused on prostate cancer research, we are all too aware of how prevalent and devastating the disease is. We strive to improve the prognosis for patients by identifying biomarkers for early detection and developing novel personal therapies to better treat the disease once it is diagnosed. However, this work cannot be done without the generous funding from Movember and Prostate Cancer UK, so we are incredibly grateful for all the donations we’ve received.”

And Dr Rich Williams, lecturer in medicinal chemistry added: “The funding provided by Prostate Cancer UK and Movember to our group is allowing us to develop the next generation of anti-prostate cancer therapeutics. In addition, we’re using this funding to further increase our knowledge of how to target the hallmarks of this aggressive disease. As a group we all too aware of the need for Movember to raise funds and put them towards improving the outcome for men suffering from prostate cancer, and are delighted to be able to contribute to the cause.”

It’s still not too late to donate – you can help the CCRCB team crack the £3,000 mark by donating.

Wow. A huge thank you and well done from everyone here for the incredible efforts you’ve all (researchers and readers) put in to making this Movember a big success. Your facial hair makes a difference. It enables us – with continuing support from the Movember Foundation – to fund much needed, life-saving research. So as all the Mo Bros out there thankfully stroke their now fuzz-free faces, we say… roll on next Movember!

A MO-mentous day in Parliament

Westminster MPs who embraced Movember 2014

Jason McCartney MP (second from left) with MPs who embraced Movember 2014

We’ve talked about why it’s important for us to build relationships with politicians before. It’s because we need to highlight at the highest levels the inequalities men with and at risk of prostate cancer face – and the changes that need to be made. This is crucial if we want to achieve our goal of improving care and support for men with prostate cancer. And Movember is a fantastic opportunity to make that happen.

The MPs who take part in Movember not only raise money for the cause, but also act as awareness raising champions in the halls of power and in their constituencies – spreading the important health messages behind the campaign throughout the month.

This year Jason McCartney MP, Mike Penning MP and Jake Berry MP bravely grew moustaches, as did Assembly Member Carl Sargeant in Wales and Liam McArthur MSP in Scotland. We were very pleased that the minister with responsibility for cancer services, Jane Ellison MP, once again supported us by attending our photo-call in Westminster at the end of the month. Mo Sistas Luciana Berger MP, Rt Hon Caroline Spelman MP and Fiona Mactaggart MP also joined us on the day, and Jason McCartney, MP for Colne Valley in West Yorkshire, raised a fuzzy-faced question in Prime Minister’s Questions –the half an hour on a Wednesday afternoon when the PM sets aside time to answer questions from MPs.

This year, Jason asked: “Every hour one man dies from prostate cancer in the UK.  Testicular cancer is now the most common cancer in men aged 25 to 49 in the UK and on average 12 men in the UK die from suicide. Will you join me in congratulating all the men who have taken part in the Movember campaign to raise these men’s health issues and will the Government continue to fund them and support these vital men’s health issues?”

And David Cameron replied: “I certainly join you in praising all those have taken part in Movember. You are sporting a pretty magnificent specimen. I have to say (Mr Berry) looks like he’s about to star in a Cheech and Chong movie – it’s absolutely remarkable. In terms of my protection team, they have done incredible work and they’re raising a lot of money. I’m only sorry that I can’t seem to be able to join you but the causes are important – particularly these cancers that really need to raise awareness, improve treatments and save lives.”

At our photo-call in Westminster, Prostate Cancer UK volunteer, Nick Harding, caught up with Jason McCartney for a quick chat about why he takes part in Movember.

Jason McCartney MP movember SPW_8337

Jason McCartney MP chatted to Prostate Cancer UK staff and volunteers at Westminster

Jason: “I’ve been involved with Prostate Cancer UK almost since I started here in Parliament. About five years ago, a good friend of mine called Des Latham died from prostate cancer. He inspired me to change direction in my career as a broadcaster with ITV Yorkshire and to run for parliament. Des was ill for about six months before he passed away in his mid-fifties. He should have had many years ahead of him. This is a very personal issue for me, but obviously some of my constituents are affected by prostate cancer too.

“Men are notoriously bad at recognising symptoms of poor health and going to the GP. We can actually save lives by spreading the word about the risk factors for prostate cancer, as well as by campaigning for certain cancer drugs to be licensed and for more research into different types of treatment.

“These days people are hearing about a lot of health issues. I mean, there was World Aids Day recently and there’s a very high profile campaign running in the fight against HIV. And a lot of women’s cancer charities run really, really successful campaigns on the importance of early screening, whether it’s for cervical cancer or breast cancer. As I said, I think men have been historically bad at recognising symptoms, going to see their GP and getting tested. So, just by making people more aware of prostate cancer, and actually realising what a big killer it is, we can fundraise for more research and help people save lives.

“By taking part in Movember, I’ve probably had 50-60 conversations about men’s health issues and prostate cancer that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. It all starts when people ask: ‘Why are you growing a moustache?’. I raise money as well but for me, it really is more about starting conversations, making people more aware of what prostate cancer is and how many men it affects every year.

“This year, I think the best mo in Westminster was Mike Penning’s – Home Office and Justice Minister. I had a meeting with him recently and he had big, hairy chops. He looked like something from the 1800s, and he carried it off really well. It’s great that someone in the Ministerial team has taken part. There’s also my good pal Jake Berry, from Rossendale and Darwen, just over the Pennines from me. As the Prime Minister said in response to my question in PMQs, he looks like a ‘Cheech and Chong’ character. I’ve just looked online and he does – he looks like a bandito!”

A fitting tribute to all the Men United

Nick Clegg with Men United stars David Kurke and Errol Mckellar

Nick Clegg with Men United stars Ray Clemence, David Kurke and Errol Mckellar

Last week Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Health Minister Norman Lamb celebrated the work of our supporters in an event at Admiralty House. Karen Stalbow, Head of Policy and Strategy was there and reflects on what occasions like these achieve.

Karen Stalbow, Head of Policy and Strategy

Karen Stalbow, Head of Policy and Strategy

Karen: “Having politicians celebrating our successes is a somewhat rare and glorious thing. That one of them was the Deputy Prime Minister (and our Patron) and the other the health minister, Norman Lamb gave the celebration a whole other level of gravitas. That we got to be in Admiralty House at their invitation was the icing on the cake.

“And they were right to celebrate. Not just because we’re an organisation that has lifted prostate cancer from obscurity and united hundreds of thousands of men to beat it. And not just because our research programmes drive progress, or because our campaigning delivers change for men and our services support them through difficult treatment choices and side-effects. They were right to celebrate because the audience these ministers addressed was made up of the people who have helped to drive our successes.

“And who are these people? Politicians? No. Celebrities? No, not them either. Magnates from the corporate world? Again, no. So who are these people? Who did Nick Clegg and Norman Lamb address?

Norman Lamb with William Kilgannon

Health Minister Norman Lamb with William Kilgannon

“They’re our supporters. They’re people like twelve-year-old William Kilgannon who collected 10,000 pennies for us. His father, Brian who did everything he could to support our award winning partnership with the team he’s supported all his life, Millwall Football Club. Or Nigel Lewis-Baker MBE, our captain of ‘raise awareness in drag’ events, which get men talking about the disease. ‘When men are in dresses,’ he told me, ‘they really open up and talk freely about prostate cancer.’ A lesson I think for us all. Or Errol McKellar, a car mechanic from Hackney who offers men discounts on an MOT at his garage if they will go and speak to their doctor about their prostate cancer risk.

“The list of unsung heroes goes on. There are the men with prostate cancer who regularly campaign with us and who, by doing so and lobbying their MPs in Parliament, ensured that prostate cancer was finally included within the Government’s ‘Be Clear on Cancer’ awareness programme. Then there are the individuals who have got the shadow Health Minister, Andy Burnham, active about prostate cancer. There are the awareness raisers, who give their time to speak to groups of men about the disease. These are the people we should be celebrating. And these are just a handful of the amazing dedicated individuals who have taken, and continue to take action to beat prostate cancer.

“We welcome their current unshaven appearance – often frowned upon in the presence of senior politicians – but crucial to Movember, generating millions of pounds for men with prostate cancer.

“But I want to end with a thought for the day – an insight that this event has given me. And this is it: It’s not often that our day-to-day activities allow us time to reflect. And why this thought? Because having the time to listen to the speeches given by Nick Clegg, Norman Lamb and our Chief Executive, Owen Sharp I was able to see just how far as an organisation we have come. By speaking to our supporters, I could recognise and appreciate how much they do. And so I think we should continue to use events like these to pause, reflect, value and celebrate everything which, as Men United against prostate cancer, we have achieved.

“And then we should quickly get back to the day-to-day because while we’ve achieved a lot, there’s no space for complacency. We all have much more to do.”

 

Eastenders, Stan Carter, and the choices we make

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost, The Road not Taken

These days many of us take choice for granted. In the spare second I get away from the office, I can switch on the TV and choose from hundreds of different channels to flick through. My father at my age probably only had the choice of watching one of three channels, and my grandfather would most likely have spent most of his spare time trying to secure a decent radio signal.

For obvious reasons, I’ve been choosing to watch EastEnders on BBC One this week. We’ve been working with the BBC – strictly under wraps – for several months, providing support and guidance on Stan Carter’s prostate cancer storyline. In case you missed it, you can catch up on iPlayer.

Stan party

Stan chose not to tell his family that he had prostate cancer for a long time. He didn’t know how they’d handle the news, and he didn’t want to worry them.

“How long have you known, Stan?“

“Long enough.”

“What does that mean? Months?

“Three years if you wanna know.”

Many of you expressed your sympathy for Stan living with his diagnosis on his own for three years. A prostate cancer diagnosis can be earth-shattering and there’s always going to be a lot to come to terms with. Men forced into this position can often feel like they should take on the strong and silent role. Think John Wayne taking a gut full of iron before manfully riding out one last time. I can empathise with that. I prefer to deal with things myself than call in the troops, and I’d rather get lost or take a ‘scenic diversion’ than ask for directions if I can possibly get away with it. I bet there are a few men reading this now who know what I’m talking about. Women too.

The EastEnders cast and crew have done sterling work breaking down barriers around an issue that’s still hampered by a lack of awareness and understanding.

Here’s what you’ve had to say about this over the last few days:

No one should have to face prostate cancer, and the difficult decisions it brings, alone. We’re there to support men like Stan every step of the way. You can speak to our Specialists Nurses on 0800 074 8383, or using our live chat service; chat to men who’ve been there, done that and got the t-shirt through our one-to-one support. You can find out all you need to know about prostate cancer, from diagnosis to end of life care using our Information Standard accredited booklets and online resources, and get support on your own patch, through our community support services.

Our community support aims to help improve men and their families’ whole wellbeing, including support for emotional and psychological needs, physical activity, nutrition and complementary therapies. By the end of March this year, we’d teamed up with over 50 community-based organisations to deliver more than 60 projects across the UK – and by the end of August, our community support teams had reached 14,993 people in local areas. For Stan, whose prostate cancer is at an advanced stage, one of the choices he had to make was whether or not to continue treatment and have chemotherapy.

“There must be something they can do. Chemo?”

“I’m not putting my body through that. Not at my age” Stan sitting

Understandably, Stan’s decision stirred up a lot of emotion:

But whether you agree with him or not, Stan has the right to choose how he wants to be treated. If he (and men in his position) decide the disadvantages of treatment on offer outweigh the benefits then who are we to argue? That right to choose how they are treated is something all men should have and it sure as hell shouldn’t be decided for them by where they live.

Last week, the first National Prostate Cancer Audit report showed up some truly disturbing gaps in prostate care in parts of England and Wales. Only 50 per cent of NHS trusts in England and 60 per cent of hospitals in Wales provide all the personal support services a man needs after prostate cancer treatment.

NICE may say that high-dose rate brachytherapy combined with external beam radiotherapy should be an option available for men with intermediate and high-risk localised or locally advanced prostate cancer, but only 11 of the 54 radiation centres in England offer this. And it’s not available at all in Wales.

That sit well with you? It doesn’t with me, and I know it doesn’t with the hundreds of thousands of people in the UK who have signed up to Men United. Each time I sit down in front of one of the leaders of our current healthcare system – usually in a little room in Whitehall – I know I’ve got 10,000 more people standing right behind me than the last time I spoke.

Stan’s choices are limited by the progression of his prostate cancer. Our leaders’ choices are shrinking due to the strength and growing voice of our movement for men. They’re at a fork in the road with two options ahead. Continue down the same care-worn path of putting men’s health on the back seat, or take a step onto the road not taken – a bumpier track, granted – but one that leads to a better future for men. I know which way I’m headed.

Sign up to Men United.

Expert insight: Leading prostate cancer scientist explains hottest topics at national cancer research conference

Earlier this month the UK’s biggest gathering of cancer experts took place in Liverpool – the NCRI cancer conference. We sponsored a session and went along to represent the organisation, meet experts and hear from the cutting edge of cancer research. But we also wanted to find out what other prostate cancer experts made of it.

Dr Hayley Whitaker is the lead scientist of the Biomarker Initiative at the Cambridge Cancer Centre. And she’s fast becoming a leader in the field of prostate cancer biomarker discovery. We’ve been working with Dr Whitaker for a while now and really admire her scientific ability, as well as her enthusiasm for spreading the R word (research)  to people who don’t have a science background. So we asked to keep her eye out for the hottest topics and most interesting discussions. Her report is this week’s guest blog.

Dr Hayley Whitaker

Dr Hayley Whitaker

 Dr Whitaker: “Professor Richard Marais, co-Director of the Belfast-Manchester Movember Centre of Excellence, chaired the tenth National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI) meeting. And it was probably the best one yet.

“In the last few years, there’s really been an explosion of information available about cancer genetics, from individual projects to sequence tumour DNA to the work of the International Cancer Genome Consortium (ICGC) – an international effort to understand the DNA sequence of 50 different tumours, including prostate cancer, and how they’re translated into cell behaviour. The DNA inside cancer cells is often different to the DNA inside normal cells and can give us important clues as to how the cancer survives and grows. So studying the sequence of tumour DNA can help us spot those differences.

“This year, the NCRI meeting addressed some of the questions the whole cancer research community is asking such as: how do we use this data to best improve patient care? Many research groups are now using information like this to see how tumour DNA changes during treatment, and what that means for how well the patients will respond to the medication. These DNA changes are really important because as Professor Tim Maughan (Oxford) said, in reference to how quickly cancer cells can evolve, ‘It took us nine years to invent the drug and it took cancer nine weeks to work out how to beat it’. That quote has been called the best truism of the conference.

“And nowadays we don’t even need to go right into the depths of the tumour to find out how its DNA changes during treatment. Professor Caroline Dive (lead researcher in the Belfast-Manchester Movember Centre of Excellence) led a session where the speakers showed how they could find and track changes to tumour DNA circulating in the blood using a simple blood test. This offers a fantastic opportunity to monitor disease without invasive tests, but there may be extra technical challenges to using this system in prostate cancer patients. This is because prostate tumours release less DNA and fewer tumour cells into the blood compared to lung and colon tumours where much of the pioneering work was done.

“Professor Johann de Bono (Director of the London Movember Centre of Excellence, based at the Institute of Cancer Research) is using tumour cells circulating in the blood to monitor response to prostate cancer treatment. He reported on the early findings of the olaparib clinical trial for treating men with advanced prostate cancer. At this stage of the disease the mechanisms that normally repair DNA when it gets damaged become less efficient or stop working altogether. Olaparib is one of a class of drugs called PARP inhibitors, which target cancer cells with increased DNA damage and kill them. Overall patient responses to olaparib treatment have been very promising, with some patients showing complete removal of tumour cells in their blood. The team are now working to determine which patients are likely to benefit from olaparib treatment by sequencing the mutations found in their DNA.

“The role of DNA damage in advanced disease was a key theme in the prostate cancer talks, with Professor Karen Knudsen (Philadelphia, USA) presenting a comprehensive study on DNAPK. DNAPK is a protein that links signalling through the androgen receptor (a key driver of prostate cancer growth) to mechanisms for repairing damaged DNA. Dr James Knight (Oxford) also presented promising work on a new way of detecting damaged DNA that could one day be used in patients with advanced prostate cancer to tell when their DNA becomes damaged. This would allow them to be treated at the right time with the right drug, such as olaparib.

“With the big move toward grouping tumours according to their genetic and molecular information, there was also a clear message that we should be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater by forgetting what so-called ‘cancer stem cells’ (which are believed to be the first cells in a cancer), can tell us. Professor Luis Parada (Dallas, USA) demonstrated that in a disease called glioblastoma multiforme, ‘cancer stem cells’ may be important for treating cancers effectively.

“There are many groups working on prostate cancer stem cells too, not least Professor Norman Maitland (York). At the moment we tend to focus on removing the bulk of a cancer and detecting the genetic changes in these numerous cells, whereas Professor Parada suggested that it might be important to focus more efforts on identifying the genetic changes in the small number of cancer stem cells. This would mean we can kill these cells too and stop the cancer from re-growing after treatment.

“In a later session, Professor Manuel Salto-Tallez (Researcher in the Belfast-Manchester Movember Centre of Excellence, based at Queen’s University Belfast) gave an inspirational talk. He discussed how to routinely combine information about cancer genetics with clinical reports and results from biopsy samples to identify patients with the most aggressive colon and prostate cancers. This is exciting work that needs to be tested further in a study across multiple hospitals, but it signals the future direction for better prostate cancer diagnosis and better patient care.

“By the end of the meeting the organisers were asking for suggestions for topics for next year. Key debates on circulating tumour cells versus circulating DNA and how best to get to the bottom of all the information we now have available about different cancer types still remained hot favourites. This reflects the topics where research is continuing at a rapid pace. All of this bodes particularly well for prostate cancer where there are still big questions around diagnosis of aggressive disease and monitoring disease during treatment that need further research.”

Growing together since 2007

We’ve been big fans of the hairy upper lip since 2007, when Adam and JC – two of the original four mo-bros – first walked into our offices and suggested we team up to tackle prostate cancer in the UK. And that, as they’ve probably never said, was the start of a long and beautiful hairy-lipped friendship. Continue reading