Bill Turnbull urged men to get checked after he ignored prostate cancer signs – what are the symptoms?

Bill Turnbull urged men not to ignore potential symptoms of prostate cancer. (Getty Images)
Prior to his death Bill Turnbull urged men not to ignore potential symptoms of prostate cancer. (Getty Images)

Bill Turnbull said inspiring men to get tested for prostate cancer by publicly revealing his own diagnosis was the “one useful thing” he has done.

The broadcaster passed away yesterday at the age of 66 after being diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2017.

Turnbull admitted he was “cross with myself” for the pride he had felt at not visiting a GP in four years.

The former BBC Breakfast and Classic FM broadcaster had prostate tests at the age of 40 and 50 but said the disease had already spread to his bones when he saw a doctor about the aches and pains he had been suffering, which he put down to “old age”.

A statement from his family following his death said: “Following a challenging and committed fight against prostate cancer, Bill passed away peacefully at his home in Suffolk surrounded by his family on Wednesday, 31st August.

“Bill was diagnosed in 2017 and has had outstanding medical care from the Royal Marsden and Ipswich Hospitals, St Elizabeth Hospice and his GP.

“He was resolutely positive and was hugely buoyed by the support he received from friends, colleagues, and messages from people wishing him luck. It was a great comfort to Bill that so many more men are now testing earlier for this disease."

The statement continued: “Bill was a wonderful husband and father to his three children; his family and friends will miss how he always made them laugh, and the generosity and love he shared with those around him.”

Bill Turnbull arrives at the Classic Brit Awards 2018, at the Royal Albert Hall in London. (Photo by Isabel Infantes/PA Images via Getty Images)
Bill Turnbull hoped sharing his story would inspire more awareness about prostate cancer symptoms, pictured in 2018. ((Photo by Isabel Infantes/PA Images via Getty Images)

The broadcaster was originally told by doctors in 2017 that he had incurable prostate cancer, which then spread to his spine, ribs, pelvis, hips and legs.

Following his diagnosis, Turnbull revealed he'd initially ignored symptoms before visiting a doctor to get checked.

Appearing on BBC Morning Live via a video call with hosts Kym Marsh and Gethin Jones, Turnbull discussed people's reluctance to talk about the disease and urged other men to get checked.

“I didn't get checked which is why I'm in the situation I'm in now," he said.

Turnbull revealed he’d worked out that the first symptoms he’d experienced – aches and pains that didn’t go away – occurred around six to eight months before he was diagnosed.

“And actually there were other warning signs in the previous years as well that I should have paid attention to,” he continued.

Read more: Rod Stewart reveals prostate cancer diagnosis

“Men don't want to go to the doctors, as simple as that,” he added: “I didn't want to go to the doctor. Now I'm going to the doctor all the time. They all know me on a first name basis.”

Watch: Obesity among men could be increasing prostate cancer deaths, study suggests

Following his own experiences of not heeding symptoms, Turnbull urged viewers to seek medical advice if something doesn’t feel right.

“If you're worried about your dad, or your husband or your uncle for heaven's sake tell them to go and get checked,” he said.

“It doesn't hurt anybody and it can save you so much grief later in the day.

“I've had so many people get in touch and say, 'Yeah I got checked, I got diagnosed and we caught it early, and as a result, the future is a lot brighter' but if you don't do that, then it's a different picture.”

Read more: Here’s how to check for prostate cancer

What is prostate cancer?

Prostate cancer develops when cells in the prostate start to grow in an uncontrolled way, according to charity Prostate Cancer UK.

Some prostate cancers grow really slowly, meaning it won’t cause any problems, but other prostate cancers grow quickly and are more likely to spread.

Prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in men, with more than 47,500 new cases every year – that’s 129 men being diagnosed every day.

Though it isn’t known exactly what causes prostate cancer, the condition is thought to be more common in African-Caribbean and African men, and less common in Asian men.

One in eight men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime, but this figure rises to one in four for black men.

Men with immediate relatives who have it are also slightly more likely to have it themselves.

More than 11,500 men die from prostate cancer in the UK each year – that’s one man every 45 minutes.

Read more: Sarah Beeny, Olivia Newton-John and celebs who have shared their breast cancer story

Bill Turnbull was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2017. (PA Images)
Bill Turnbull was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2017. (PA Images)

What are the symptoms of prostate cancer?

Some prostate cancer develops slowly, so its symptoms may not show for many years, and might never cause any problems in your lifetime.

The signs of prostate cancer often only become noticeable when the prostate is enlarged enough to affect the urethra – the tube carrying urine from the bladder to the penis.

According to the NHS, prostate cancer symptoms can include:

  • needing to pee more frequently, often during the night

  • needing to rush to the toilet

  • difficulty in starting to pee (hesitancy)

  • straining or taking a long time while peeing

  • weak flow

  • feeling that your bladder has not emptied fully

  • blood in urine or blood in semen

But these symptoms do not always mean you have prostate cancer. Many men’s prostates get larger as they get older because of a non-cancerous condition called prostate enlargement.

For some men the first symptoms of prostate cancer occur when it has spread beyond the prostate gland to the bones and these can include back pain, loss of appetite, pain in the testicles and unexplained weight loss.

Whatever pain, discomfort or symptoms you feel, it is always best to discuss these with your GP.

Read more: Bill Turnbull and Linda Nolan urge public to not delay cancer checks

How is prostate cancer diagnosed?

Paul Erotocritou, consultant urologist at BMI King’s Oak Hospital in North London, says GPs can use a number of tests to diagnose the condition.

“A prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test detects whether there is a rise of the PSA protein in the blood that might indicate prostate cancer,” he previously told Yahoo UK.

“There is also a urine test to detect whether an enlarged prostate might actually be an inflammation of the gland.

“Your GP may also be able to feel an enlarged prostate through the wall of the bowel.”

Further hospital tests may include more advanced options such as a prostate biopsy, MRI, CT or ultrasound scan, or prostate mapping.

Read more: This 10-minute scan could tell if you are at risk of prostate cancer

Treatments for prostate cancer

If you’ve been diagnosed with prostate cancer, there are several possible treatments available, including monitoring a slow-spreading cancer, radiotherapy, hormone therapy and removal of the gland.

“It’s best to discuss treatments and side effects with your doctor,” said Erotocritou.

Anyone with concerns about prostate cancer can contact Prostate Cancer UK's specialist nurses in confidence on 0800 074 8383 or online via the Live Chat instant messaging service at www.prostatecanceruk.org.

The specialist nurse phone service is free to landlines and open from 9am to 6pm Monday to Friday, with late opening until 8pm on Wednesdays.