Whitley Bay's Craig Carr only asked for a prostate cancer check on a whim having seen newscaster Bill Turnbull talk about the illness - but doing so could well have saved his life.
Craig, now 52, saw his cancer caught early - and is now getting on with his life. But he's spoken out to encourage other men in our region to get themselves checked. This comes as the charity Prostate Cancer UK reveal figures which show a "North-South divide" in outcomes - with men in the North much less likely to discover prostate cancer when it's in its earliest, and least lethal, stages.
Figures from the charity's National Prostate Cancer Audit show more than 20% of men in the North East and Yorkshire are diagnosed with cancer that has spread. That's compared to just 12.5% in London - where more patients are diagnosed when the disease is at an earlier and more treatable stage.
Craig - who works as an auditor - is one of the lucky ones. And he's pushing to ensure as many others as possible find their cancer early. He said: "I was 49 at the time and I had no symptoms or anything like that. I had just been reading online about Bill Turnbull's story. He was encouraging men to go out and get a prostate test.
"To be honest, back then I didn't even really know what a prostate was. The next week I had a meeting with my doctor anyway, and I asked about it. She said that while usually they don't offer tests until you're 50, as I was close they'd do it anyway."
Unfortunately, the blood test came back showing that he had elevate levels of the PSA antigen - an indicator of cancer - and further tests in hospital found that he had cancer. However, he found it had not spread - and after having an operation to remove it and some further treatment, Craig is back to his happy and healthy best.
He added: "It was caught between stage one and stage two - and the consultant said I could have gone ten years before noticing any symptoms, by which time it could have been too late to do the operation.
"The consultant asked why I had wanted to get checked - I just said: 'Because of Bill Turnbull.' And the consultant said it was good that I had done!"
Overall, almost 10,000 men each year are being diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic prostate cancer in the UK - and the latest NCPA figures suggest a significantly higher risk of this for men living in the most deprived areas. There was also a dramatic 29% fall in diagnoses during the first year of the pandemic - raising fears that cancers could be growing undetected.
The charity is now hoping to encourage men in regions like the North East and Yorkshire to use its 30-second online risk checker in order to help find out more about what their next steps should be.
Craig said: "The important thing is that the message is to encourage as many men as possible to get tested. Obviously for me there was a bit of discomfort but now, looking back, I don't feel any different."
Laura Kerby, Chief Executive at Prostate Cancer UK, said: "This postcode lottery for cancer diagnosis simply isn’t fair, and the picture in the North-East and Yorkshire is especially worrying. Every man should get an equal chance of a cure, which is only possible if his cancer is caught early.
"Unfortunately, early prostate cancer usually doesn’t have any symptoms, which is why men need to be aware of their risk and should take our online risk checker to find out more. If you’re at higher risk – which includes all men over 50 – you're entitled to a free PSA blood test from your GP.
"Because of their higher risk, we strongly recommend that Black men and men with a family history of prostate cancer should speak to their GP from the age of 45."
Prostate Cancer UK is calling for action to tackle these health inequalities - particularly in the North-East, Yorkshire, and other badly-hit regions – by encouraging men across the country to use its30-second online risk checker to help them understand their risk and what they can do about it.
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