More than 2,500 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer each year in Wales, and about 600 men die each year because of the disease.
As with most cancers, detecting the disease early is crucial to improving survival rates, yet a new report by charity Prostate Cancer UK has shown that Wales is lagging behind in access to the Multiparametic MRI (mpMRI) scans - which can detect the disease better.
mpMRI scans can be used with other tests to improve the number of aggressive prostate cancers being caught earlier. If the mpMRI is carried out to a sufficient standard it's also been proven to safely reduce the number of men who may have biopsies unnecessarily, by ruling them out of having prostate cancer at an earlier stage.
In England, an NHS trial is under way to cut prostate cancer diagnosis times from six weeks to a matter of days using the scan.
But in Wales only three out of seven Welsh health boards provide the scan, as it is not currently recommended by the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE).
It is available in Cardiff and Vale, Aneurin Bevan and Cwm Taf health boards, but not in North Wales.
In England 92% of areas provide mpMRI before biopsy, 60% of which provide the scan to a high standard.
The figures referred to by Prostate Cancer UK were from a Freedom of Information request to health bodies across the UK asking them about the use of the scans before biopsy. They found that whereas across the UK only 13 per cent of health bodies were not providing it at all, the figure in Wales was 50 per cent, and they said, 18 months after the PROMIS trial first proved that the mpMRI scans before a biopsy could radically boost detection of prostate cancer, that 'Wales is lagging behind other parts of the UK in terms of making this breakthrough diagnostic available, putting Welsh men at a disadvantage”.
The Welsh Government said while NICE do not currently recommend a pre-biopsy MRI scan, this was under review and if the position changed health boards would be expected to provide it, but in the meantime men in North Wales are having to find almost £1,000 to fund the scans themselves because they are not available on the NHS here.
These scans are over 90% accurate - compared to the 47% accuracy of the biopsies currently offered by Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board.
I agree wholeheartedly with Prostate Cancer UK that this inequality in access cannot be allowed to continue and it is therefore vital that the Health Secretary addresses this postcode lottery which is denying men in North Wales access to the scan which is available free in South Wales and England.
All men in Wales should have access through the NHS to the best possible diagnostic tests for prostate cancer.