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.”


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.”

Saying the right things: How do party conferences compare across the border?

The political party conferences are really important dates in the calendar for Prostate Cancer UK, especially our Campaigns team. It’s a huge opportunity to push prostate cancer up the agenda with decision makers and tell them about the issues men are facing.

We’ve recently heard from Sophie Lutter about her conference experience this year and the vital role our volunteers play in building relationships with politicians. Our guest blogger this week, Campaigns and Media Coordinator, Lauren Davies is based in our Glasgow office. She’s been a regular at Scottish party conferences over the last few years, but recently went to her first UK conference (albeit once taking place in Scotland!). Here she tells us how different a challenge it was.

Lauren Davies, Campaigns and Media Coordinator

Lauren Davies, Campaigns and Media Coordinator

“Along with colleagues from across various departments, and some truly excellent volunteers, I attended this year’s Lib Dem conference in Glasgow.

“For me it was really interesting to see the differences between the UK and Scottish party conferences, and to note the additional challenges that arise from the different scale and the types of attendees at the UK conferences.

“Surprisingly the size of venue  isn’t vastly different as there are still large numbers of exhibitors at Scottish conferences, and there tend to be many more charities and organisations there. But there is a big difference in terms of numbers of politicians.

“To give you an idea, the UK parliament has 650 MPs compared to the Scottish Parliament’s 129 MSPs. The majority of politicians in Westminster are split across the three main parties whose conferences our Campaigns team would attend – Conservative, Labour and Lib Dem. But in Holyrood politicians are divided into four main parties – the Scottish National Party, Scottish Labour, Scottish Conservatives and Unionists, and the Scottish Liberal Democrats.  This means that each conference is smaller and therefore our Campaigns team in Scotland have a smaller target audience to focus on.

“A clear upside of this is that we can pay more attention to detail when preparing. We can nail down what we want to talk to them about before we go and have much more detailed notes on previous involvement with specific politicians. And we can generally recognise all of them as we’ve met them numerous times! You just can’t do that at bigger UK conferences.

“UK conferences are attended by politicians and delegates from all four nations of the UK… As a result, it’s much harder to ensure we are saying the right thing to the right people”

“We can also be sure that the campaign messages we’re trying to get across about Scotland are fine for the vast majority of politicians and delegates who are there. However, UK conferences are attended by politicians and delegates from all four nations of the UK – so our usual approach of keeping an eye out for MSPs does not quite work. There are MPs, Members of the House of Lords, Councillors, AMs, MLAs and Prospective Parliamentary Candidates to meet and influence as well!

“As a result, it’s much harder to ensure we are saying the right thing to the right people. Our messages need to be tailored to suit whichever of the four nations (and four separate health care systems) we’re targeting. For example, there would be little sense in speaking to English, Welsh, or Northern Irish MPs about the Scottish Medicines Consortium (the body that recommends which new drugs should be made available on NHS Scotland). Or to MSPs about Be Clear on Cancer (an awareness campaign led by Public Health England). I definitely had to do more swotting up on all of our messaging than usual!

“It is a challenge, but the evidence suggests that we are increasingly up to this challenge. Prostate Cancer UK has had great success at the Scottish conferences over the years. We’ve secured support and follow-up actions from the First Minister, the Deputy First Minister, the Health Secretary and Shadow Health Ministers for our key campaigns.

“And at UK party conferences we’ve won the support of the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and key Government Ministers and shadows from all parliaments and assemblies too. Proof that we are increasingly getting this right.

“We know our stand and messaging this year hit the back of the net with Lib Dem delegates as we won the award for Best Charitable Stand. And we won the same at the Labour conference the week before. So our style as well as our substance was clearly recognised.

Deputy Prime minister Nick Clegg signs for Men United

Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg signs for Men United with volunteer, Terry Potter

“From attending the Lib Dem conference, and hearing from colleagues who attended the Conservative and Labour ones, it’s clear it has been worthwhile in helping us engage with politicians and other organisations. An impressive number of politicians signed up for Men United. And in doing so they pledged to help with follow-up work for our latest campaigns on inequalities for men with prostate cancer.

“We have the photographic evidence so they can’t back out now!”

It started with a ‘tache. Now our love affair with rugby league is getting serious.

From moustaches to Manchester United and badges to barbers shops, Prostate Cancer UK’s presence in rugby league is on the rise. Our Sports PR Manager Gary Haines reports from the touchline on the bromance of the year.

Gary Haines, Sports PR Manager

Gary Haines, Sports PR Manager

Recently, North West rivals Wigan Warriors and St Helens locked horns amid a cauldron of noise as the curtain came down on a compelling 2014 Super League season at Old Trafford – and we were in amongst a 70,000-strong crowd. Invited up by our rugby league friends, we were there to meet new faces and pave the way to working even more closely over the next year.

Wind the clock back 12 months and Prostate Cancer UK’s presence in the sport was fleeting at best. Conversations had been exchanged and ideas tentatively bounced around, but when Sky Sports rugby league presenter Bill Arthur got involved during Movember last year the tide turned.

Sky Sports rugby league reporter, Bill Arthur

Sky Sports rugby league reporter, Bill Arthur

Bill, a touchline, studio and commentary box stalwart, was diagnosed with prostate cancer in January 2012 by chance. A decision to move house and the mortgage paperwork that followed triggered a chain of events that led to the life-changing news in his doctor’s surgery.

These days Bill is a passionate advocate for Prostate Cancer UK and the driving force behind a startling upturn in our presence in the sport. Thanks to him our Man of Men badge has become a staple part of the rugby league presenters’ wardrobe.

And after he started wearing one and giving them out, the icon became the talk of the town. People wanted to know what it was. There was such a buzz about it that Bill’s executive producer, Neville Smith, (who would later complete Ride London for us) suggested Bill answer that question on TV.

A few days later Bill was at our London Bridge office interviewing Director of Fundraising, Mark Bishop. He also quizzed Leeds Rhinos duo Kevin Sinfield and Jamie Peacock as well as Jon Wilkin and Paul Wellens from St Helens about why they were wearing the badge. The feature was broadcast ahead of the rivals’ game with Bill and anchor, Eddie Hemmings, also speaking about their personal experiences of prostate cancer.

Partnerships were forged with League 13 (the players’ union body) and conversations started with clubs up and down the country. And it didn’t stop there. The then-England skipper Sinfield got behind the Men United v Prostate Cancer campaign and a host of star names followed in his studmarks. Men like Wigan captain Sean O’Loughlin, Leeds stalwart Peacock, St Helens skipper Paul Wellens and many more.

As the season rolled on the badges became a prerequisite of the coverage with new faces immediately signed up by Bill. On our side, emails turned into phone calls, and then into meetings as we started to embrace the potential of the sport.

The strong heartland of rugby league is in the north of the country, with a couple of exceptions in Catalan Dragons, located in the south of France and London Broncos. Top-flight teams from Yorkshire, Greater Manchester, Cheshire and Merseyside bring a sense of real regional rivalry to the table, and offer us an opportunity to reach out into communities at the same time and reach men and their families in new and innovative ways.

Take Widnes Vikings. Brian O’Connor , the Vikings’ Marketing Director, watched with interest when Sky Sports transmitted the Prostate Cancer UK feature and invited us to meet him and his family when Widnes were entertained by London Broncos. By the end of a productive chat over dinner he was won over – and so were we. Next season the club will have the Prostate Cancer UK logo on their shirts as part of a charity partnership.

Rugby and football stars pop in for a trim and sign for Men United

Sinfield, meanwhile, had suggested we get in touch with his local barbershop in Oldham, where barber Steven Palmer had asked for a box of badges to put on the counter. But he wasn’t the only rugby league ace on the books – far from it. Enter St Helens’ Mark Flanagan, son of Terry Flanagan, former Great Britain man and now Chairman of Rugby League Cares, the charitable arm of the Super League.

Another England sporting international, former Manchester United man Paul Scholes, also an Oldham native, was a regular in the shop too. A perfect media storm was brewing, and in late July the three VIPs drew national television, radio, newspaper and online media to the barber shop. They were interviewed about their support of Prostate Cancer UK and took the Men United test on camera.

The story ran across Sky Sports News for two days with branding and badges prominent and Prostate Cancer UK given strong mentions. There were also features in The Sun and talkSPORT amid a sensational period of coverage.

And we’ve forged contact with the RFL via Rugby League Cares and our Community Engagement Manager, Chris Carter, met Flanagan senior and appeared on Sky Sports magazine show Boots ’N’ All.

For a sport that was arguably well off our radar, a lot has happened in a year. And that brings us to the final at Old Trafford.

Sky Sports rugby league team

Sky Sports rugby league team: Barrie McDermott, Bill Arthur, Terry O’Connor, Phil Clarke, Sam Tomkins and Mike ‘Stevo’ Stephenson

Bill’s generosity knew no bounds when he hosted me, Chris Carter and our Deputy Director of Communications, Alison Day at the final. He started us off with a tour of Sky’s inner sanctum, tucked away at the back of the club’s West Stand car park. We met Eddie Hemmings, long time broadcast colleague Mike ‘Stevo’ Stephenson, and all the pundits including Sam Tomkins, back from New Zealand and, naturally, badged up as soon as he got out of his car.

What impressed us more than anything was the knowledge about prostate cancer and the enthusiasm shared by the panel. Here was a group of former players really behind the cause, all of whom were happy to help us however they could, all of whom had taken time out of their busy schedule to meet us. As kick-off approached we headed to our seats – Bill had got us into the executive suite where we chatted to dignitaries from the RFL, passing on badges wherever possible.

Looking back to how it all started with Bill’s Movember ‘tache, it was an amazing privilege for us to get the opportunity to mingle with the great and good in the game on such a prestigious occasion. And after seeing St Helens edge out their rivals in an incident-packed affair it was great to see Wellens and Flanagan, a man who made us all a round of tea in the barber’s shop back in July, celebrating.

And our conversations are set to continue as Prostate Cancer UK charges down an exciting new sporting path.

Building an image of the prostate slice by slice: PhD student’s three years in the lab

As five new PhD students join our team of scientists and clinicians fighting prostate cancer, we catch up with one student coming to the end of his study. Our guest blogger this week is Jonathan Francis Roscoe, a PhD student in the Vision, Graphics and Visualisation group at Aberystwyth University, supervised by Hannah Dee and Reyer Zwiggelaar. Back in 2011 we awarded the team a grant, funded by the Hoover Foundation, to fund Jonathan’s project.

Jonathan Francis Roscoe, PhD Student

Jonathan: “It was extremely exciting to discover we had been awarded a grant from Prostate Cancer UK. It’s been a busy three years, but the project is coming to an end so it’s a good time to let you know what we’ve been up to.

“As many of you will know, prostate biopsy (where small samples of tissue are removed with a needle) is the definitive method for finding out if there is cancer in a man’s prostate. Unfortunately, there are a number of issues with this method. The majority of biopsies are performed using ultrasound to look at the prostate. While this is cheap and readily available it provides only a basic image of the prostate making it difficult to target areas where there might be cancer.

“Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a much clearer means of looking at the prostate, but is costly and time consuming. And while biopsy can be performed under MRI, it requires specialist equipment and isn’t currently standard practice.

“The aim of our project was to take standard MRIs and combine them with ultrasound in order to improve the accuracy of the ultrasound-guided biopsy. You could think of it as a map to highlight “high risk” regions, so that the urologist has an easier time identifying suspicious areas.

“One of the first steps towards this was to build a 3D computer model of the prostate that provided a typical map of tissue types, including locations most likely to contain cancer. An MRI scan works by taking images at several locations, producing a number of images representing cross-sections of the body – known as slices. A typical scan is made of around 20 slices, which when stacked together provide a clear image of the prostate. To construct our 3D model we combined over 1,200 MRI slices from more than 50 men with prostate cancer. Each slice had been annotated by radiologists to indicate three major regions of interest – the prostate capsule, the central region and areas of cancer (if there were any).

“We applied image processing techniques found in hand-writing recognition and face morphing tools (which you may have seen popularised recently as mobile apps). This allowed us to combine all of the images into a single model, identifying areas where tumours commonly appear throughout the prostate. Although no two cases are alike, combining a variety allows us to find common characteristics.

“We had a lot of problems to tackle and we’ve done a lot of research into potential techniques. Much of my research has been inspired by mammographic and other medical image analysis techniques that have similar characteristics. (A mammogram is an image of a woman’s breast used to try and spot cancer.) I am continually looking for methods that might be applicable to the MRI and ultrasound images of the prostate.

“At the moment we’re wrapping up investigation into a novel technique for detecting areas of cancer in MRI that works by combining different characteristics of the image to differentiate structures. Every image, whether it’s from a camera or an MRI scan has a number of features that can tell us about the content. For example, in a landscape if you were searching for sky, you might look for blue regions. If you want to find a road you might look for straight lines.

“Often, cancer areas are much darker though this alone isn’t a good enough test. In our method we use two major characteristics. The first is intensity (how bright or dark a spot on the image is) and the second is microstructure (we count small straight lines, corners, etc. at a scale a human might not see). Together, these give us a new way of describing sections of an image.

“Once we’ve done this, we can combine it with our earlier work in 3D modelling to project it onto ultrasound images (which don’t have a lot of useful information) to improve their reliability.

“Over the next six months I will be reviewing the work I’ve done so far, and putting it together with similar research published by authors from around the world in order to hone our methodology and form my thesis. I don’t yet know what I will be doing afterwards, but I am planning to investigate further research work. I have thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity Prostate Cancer UK gave me. I hope my work will not only be of value to others working in medical image analysis but also to men with, or at risk of prostate cancer. In particular, this work should be a step towards better diagnosis and staging.

“I also want to say good luck to any new research students starting soon. It’s a long journey with lots of different paths to take. My recommendation is to collaborate with peers in your own department as often as you can. There are lots of great ideas you can get by interacting with people in other disciplines.

“Doing my PhD has given me the opportunity to implement my own ideas and interact with people from around the world. I’ve attended a variety of events and conferences and am thrilled to see the number and variety of people investigating the diagnosis and treatment of prostate cancer. It’s great to have the opportunity to discuss ideas.

“It’s been really encouraging to see the boom in awareness of prostate cancer in the UK over the past three years, and I’ve been proud to be a part of the research. I look forward to keeping up with the work of future PhD students in Progress magazine.”

Behind the numbers: getting statistics right for men with prostate cancer

Guest blogger Amy Dyer, Research Analyst at Prostate Cancer UK

Amy Dyer, Research Analyst


Our guest blogger this month is Amy Dyer, a Research Analyst in our Evidence team. Recently, we’ve been talking a lot about how important it is for men to know their risk of prostate cancer. And we’ve been quoting lots of statistics like one in eight men will get prostate cancer. But what do these numbers mean? Amy shines a light on the world of risk and some of the figures we use.

Continue reading

Is offering abiraterone before chemotherapy a ‘no-brainer’? Then why is NICE considering rejecting it?

Alexis Wieroniey, Campaigns Manager

Alexis Wieroniey, Campaigns Manager

Our guest blogger this week is Alexis Wieroniey, Prostate Cancer UK Campaign Manager, who’s been closely following NICE’s decision whether or not to approve the life-extending drug abiraterone for use before chemotherapy.

Here Alexis looks at the some of the issues that are holding up getting this drug into the hands of the men who need it. Continue reading