Two universities in East of England involved in pioneering prostate cancer research

  • Watch Russell Hookey's report for ITV News Anglia

A prostate cancer survivor has been speaking about feeling "completely helpless" after being diagnosed with the disease which is twice as likely to affect black men.

Errol McKeller from Thaxted, Essex, said: "When the doctor said to me your prostate is covered in cancer, I just burst into tears as I think that is when the word cancer actually hit me and I thought what do I do now."

Mr McKellar later founded "The Errol McKellar Foundation", a charity which aims to raise awareness of prostate cancer.

Russell Hookey talking to Errol McKellar about prostate cancer awareness. Credit: ITV News Anglia

Mr McKellar had no symptoms, yet a routine blood test found he had an advanced form of the disease.

"Let's not ignore it " he added.

"Let's be, from an African Caribbean point of view - be more involved in the research work, let's be more involved in making a pledge to MOT yourself every year."

Prof Dmitry Pshezhetskiy, GP and Research professor at UEA. Credit: ITV News Anglia

Prostate Cancer affects all men, but those who are black are twice as likely to develop and die from prostate cancer

Now scientists are leading the way when it comes to understanding why that is with new research projects at the University of East Anglia and the University of Essex.

At the UEA, scientists are hoping to develop a new test, using DNA information and AI technology, to help detect prostate cancer among black men.

Dr Dmitry Pshezhetskiy, GP and Research professor at UEA, said: "The reason for this project is to find specifically those little changes that can be detected when you look for a lot of them, like a million, that can be specific to black men rather than to white or asian men"

"That would help diagnose cancer in them earlier rather than if you give them a generic, one size fits all test. It would definitely change the way it is treated." he added.

Researchers at the University of Essex, Colchester campus. Credit: ITV News Anglia

At the University of Essex, researchers are investigating the genetic differences that underpin the higher rates of prostate cancer in Black men.

Lead researchers Dr Greg Brooke and Dr Antonio Marco, from Essex's School of Life Sciences, said: "Black men are at greater risk of developing prostate cancer, but the reasons for this remain unclear."

"We have identified genetic differences between Black men and other populations in genes linked to prostate cancer, which appears to explain why some men are at higher risk of getting prostate cancer.

The projects have been funded as part of the charity Prostate Cancer Research's racial disparities research programme.

It's aimed at addressing the health inequalities in prostate cancer faced by Black men.

Dr Naomi Elster, Director of Research at Prostate Cancer Research, said: "Our knowledge of cancer is incomplete".

"So much of the data we have is drawn from studies which were overwhelmingly of cancer in White people of European descent, and it's those studies which have informed our diagnostic strategies and drug development."

Prostate Cancer Research, said that there is "real potential" in the development of targeted genetic testing for the disease.

Dr Naomi Elster, director of research at the charity, said: "There is a real need for a new way to diagnose prostate cancer, as the PSA blood test we currently use is not as accurate as we want."

"We see real potential in this targeted genetic test."

What are the symptoms for prostate cancer?

  • Difficulty starting to urinate or emptying your bladder

  • A weak flow when you urinate

  • A feeling that your bladder hasn’t emptied properly

  • Dribbling urine after you finish urinating

  • Needing to urinate more often than usual, especially at night

  • A sudden need to urinate – you may sometimes leak urine before you get to the toilet