Prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the country – ahead of breast cancer. It’s wicked, destructive and ultimately life-taking.
I know from bitter experience. I was diagnosed early last year following a biopsy and although my journey has only just begun, there’s not a day when I don’t think about the cancer inside my prostate. Is it growing? Has it invaded other parts of my body?
Only the reassuring advice of my marvellous consultant urological surgeon Christopher Ogden – and support of my partner Leonie – keeps me on the straight and narrow. The facts speak for themselves. Every day, around 130 men are told they have prostate cancer, with most aged between 65 and 69.
Battle: Ian Hampton, with his wife Angela, received £50,000 thanks to a protection policy that he had taken out with insurer Aegon before being diagnosed with prostate cancer
One in eight men will get it in their lifetime and it spares no one – with actor and writer Stephen Fry and former TV presenter Bill Turnbull (a good marathon runner in his time) being victims. It’s indiscriminate although black men and males who come from a family with a history of prostate cancer are more prone.
Although detection is getting better through greater testing and many men are able to live with it for many years without resorting to surgery, it is still a killer cancer.
Every 45 minutes, someone in the UK dies from it – equating to more than 11,500 a year. For others, treatment can have life-changing consequences though surgical techniques are improving all the time enabling many sufferers to make a near full recovery. Of course, coronavirus has been a contributory factor in far more deaths this year – 51,000 and increasing by the day. But it doesn’t make the impact of prostate cancer any less painful. It doesn’t go away.
Ian Hampton, from Hanworth in West London, had been on prostate cancer alert for a number of years after a routine ‘over 50s’ check-up discovered he had a high ‘PSA’ [prostate-specific antigen] blood test score indicating there might be a problem. The 57-year-old was then told it was time to tackle the issue. He had a choice: radiotherapy or surgery (a prostatectomy). After discussing the issue with wife Angela, Ian chose surgery in the hope of eradicating the cancer once and for all.
In June, having tested Covid-free two days previously, he was treated at the King Edward VII’s Hospital in Marylebone, West London, and was out the next day. It’s not been an easy journey since. Like many men who opt for a prostatectomy, it’s taken time to regain full control of his bladder – and he’s hopeful that through regular pelvic floor exercises he will soon be able to sustain an erection.
After two months of recuperation, he managed to go back to doing ‘light duties’ at Heathrow Airport where he works as an airside traffic officer – dealing with everything from fuel spillages to accidents. Yet in the past few days, he’s been told his cancer has not been eliminated. It’s possibly elsewhere within his body.
Provided that hospitals are not overwhelmed with coronavirus cases in the coming weeks, he will embark at the end of the month on a six-week course of radiotherapy at a hospital in London.
Ian faces a worrying future, but he’s determined to win his battle. ‘My dad, Bob, died of prostate cancer in May 2018,’ he says, ‘so I know what the cancer can do. By the time it was discovered, it was too late for him. But I will fight it with all of my might.’
Charity Prostate Cancer UK says that a man is two and a half times more likely to get the cancer if his father or brother has had it. The only chink of light has been a financial one – in the form of a tax-free payout from a financial protection policy Ian and Angela took out seven years ago in conjunction with a mortgage on their three-bedroom, semi-detached house.
The cover, provided by insurer Aegon, is known as critical illness insurance and is designed to provide policyholders with financial protection if they suffer a serious health condition such as a heart attack, stroke or cancer. Other providers of such cover include Aviva, Guardian, Legal & General and Zurich.
For prostate cancer, the amount of payout is determined by a test called the Gleason Score. This involves a pathologist looking at cancer cells in two areas of the prostate and scoring them each, one to five, according to how aggressive they appear or how different they are from healthy cells.
The higher the Gleason Score, the more severe the cancer. Any score above 7 results in a full payout while below 7, most insurers will pay a reduced sum – typically the lower of £25,000 or 25 per cent of the sum assured. Ian’s score was 8 which meant he was eligible for a full payout on his policy of £50,000 – far more than the accumulated premiums he had been paying since 2013 (£110 a month). The money Ian received a month after his operation means that he and Angela now have a financial buffer, some of which they will use to pay down a chunk of their home loan when the current mortgage deal comes to an end next month.
It has also mitigated the impact of Angela losing her job as an air stewardess with British Airways as a result of the multitude of travel restrictions imposed since March.
Provided the treatment is successful, Ian and Angela hope in the next two years to move closer to their two daughters Michelle and Sarah – both in their early-30s – who live in Kent. ‘Yes, the payout has given us a financial comfort blanket,’ says Ian, ‘but the fact remains that I’ve still got cancer. Will I die from it? Hopefully not in the immediate future and certainly not if my consultant urologist has anything to do with it.
‘So my plea to male readers of The Mail on Sunday over the age of 50 is to remain vigilant. If in doubt, have a PSA test.’
WHERE DID ALL THE CLAIMANTS GO?
Insurer Aegon says the pandemic has led to a sharp and ‘worrying’ reduction in the number of claims made on critical illness policies.
This is due to scheduled health screenings for cancer being postponed – leading to cancers such as breast, bowel and prostate going undetected.
In the first six months of this year, the insurer paid £16.7million in claims, compared to £17.6million in the first half of last year.
But more tellingly, the volume of claims is down 24 per cent in the six months to the end of September, compared to the same period last year. Simon Jacobs, head of claims, says it would be a ‘tragedy’ if the pandemic and lockdown put people off addressing serious health issues. He adds: ‘Early detection and better treatment for cancer means survival rates after a diagnosis are improving. This emphasises the importance of critical illness cover.’
Alan Lakey, a critical illness specialist at Highclere Financial, says £100,000 of cover taken out for 25 years by a couple, both aged 40 and non-smoking, would cost just over £102 a month with Royal London.
This month, the ‘Movember’ campaign runs in order to motivate men to be more aware of their health and wellness. It focuses on prostate cancer, testicular cancer, mental health and suicide prevention. Details at: uk.movember.com.
Charity Prostate Cancer UK has a mine of information available on its website: prostatecanceruk.org. Financial protection experts include Highclere Financial (01442 234 800) and Lifesearch (0800 316 7253).