The much-loved TV presenter of the BBC's 'Breakfast TV', Bill Turnbull, who has died at the age of sixty-six, was diagnosed with the prostate cancer which killed him, in 2017. Last December he was interviewed by Michael Dodds, the writer and Conservative peer, who himself had been diagnosed and was being treated for prostate cancer and was the guest editor on the BBC Radio 'Today Programme'. Bill told Michael that he had ignored possible symptoms for months before finally going to see his GP. He said : “Maybe if I’d seen my GP earlier, I wouldn’t be in quite the mess I am in now. But men do that : "I’ll be all right, there’s nothing wrong with me". And : "It’s embarrassing”.
Bill knew that his prostate cancer was treatable, but not curable and he said, laughing, at the time, that his hope in life : “Was to stay alive as long as possible”. In the event, he lived for just another nine months. In that respect he had been been like many old and 'not so old men', who do not get tested in time and do not seek help, despite the good outcomes of being treated, if the disease is caught in time.Having been diagnosed with prostate, Bill had 'gone public' with his diagnosis in March 2018, following in the footsteps of actor, Stephen Fry, who had done the same the month before. Their revelations encouraged men of a similar age to get screened. The NHS 'National Disease Registration Service' said : "Our findings show a marked increase in the number of prostate cancers diagnosed from the time of Fry’s and Turnbull’s announcements of their own diagnoses". It is quite clear that Bill and Stephen's decisions to go public encouraged men of a similar age to get screened. Former NHS England boss Simon Stevens said : “A debt of gratitude is owed to Bill Turnbull and Stephen Fry for the work they have done to urge men to seek medical advice if they think something isn’t right. 'The Turnbull and Fry Effect' could help save lives ".
"The truth of the matter is : This cancer don't care about your colour. It don't care about your wealth - don't really care about you. What it does, if you ignore it - it will kill you. And that's how I put it across to all men".
My own prostate cancer was discovered, almost by accident six years ago, when I had my bladder removed, because of bladder cancer and as a matter of course my prostate was also removed and a biopsy revealed, it too, harboured cancer even though , at 67, I had no symptoms. Its the reason why I, if the opportunity arises that I tell the old men and young men I meet, to get themselves checked out. It is a disease specifically for men, since women do not have a prostate gland and in Britain it is now the most common type of cancer for men, with one in eight white Brits diagnosed in their life time and one in four black.
The facts are that there are about 50,000 new cases of prostate cancer in Britain each year and about 11,000 men will die as a result. Despite this death toll, there is no totally effective screening programme, because a blood test showing levels of the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) is only a guide. It does not accurately distinguish between dangerous cancers and harmless ones.Professor Nicholas Van As of the Royal Marsden Hospital, Chelsea, underlined this point when he said : "The problem with prostate cancer is you may find the cancer and it may be a cancer that men never needed to know about, because in his natural lifespan, it was never going to progress and he'd never need treatment. Although we have a blood test - a PSA test which is useful in prostate cancer, it's actually not a good screening test. You can have an elevated PSA and not have prostate cancer. In fact, you can have a lower than, what's classically thought of as a 'normal PSA' and still have prostate. So it's not a very good diagnostic test".Professor Ros Eeles, of the Institute of Cancer Research, told the 'Today Programme' that if a PSA test was carried out now on every man in Britain over the age of 55 it would lead to over-treatment. She said : “We will end up treating at least 12 men for every one man that you should really find disease which is going to impact on that man’s life. In the breast screening programme, it’s three to one”.
However, she was optimistic that situation would change and said : “With the advances in genetics and also imaging, particularly MRI, realistically we do need some more data but we’re probably looking at getting close to a tailored screening programme in the next three to five years. We might need to use all of them together so we can find those who have significant disease”.Professor Peter Johnson, the 'National Clinical Director for Cancer' at NHS England, told the Programme that, because of the pandemic, there were several thousand fewer men starting treatment than in a normal year. He said : “It isn’t that there’s a big backlog in the system of people waiting to be diagnosed, it’s literally we haven’t even met them yet and that’s what we’re anxious to reverse”. He urged men to use the risk checker on the 'Prostate Cancer UK' website.
In 2019 Bill had said :
"I like to say I have been buoyed by a thousand points of love. From friends and colleagues, my footballing family at Wycombe Wanderers, and from countless messages from people just wishing me luck. Also hearing from men who have been diagnosed and treated as a result of me speaking out – I can’t tell you how much that means to me, and gives me strength for the time that lies ahead".