More than 40,000 men a year in the UK are being affected by prostate cancer, a charity’s research has show.

The number of men dying from the disease each year remains unchanged, at about 10,000 a year.

In 2009, around 40,800 British men were diagnosed with prostate cancer, the charity Cancer Research UK reported. That compares with a figure of just 14,000 two decades earlier in 1989. Prior to this update, the figure most often quoted was 37,000.

Much of the increase is due to more men having blood tests for the prostate cancer biomarker Prostate Specific Antigen.

PSA testing first started in the UK in around 1989. Since then prostate cancer incidence rates have more than doubled from 47.4 to 102.9 per 100,000 men in the UK population.

However, PSA testing is not used as part of a national screening programme because of doubts about its reliability.

Research suggests that up to two thirds of men with high PSA levels do not have prostate cancer.

Diagnosis of the disease is only confirmed after analysis of biopsy tissue samples. In some cases, the cancer is so slow growing that no radical treatment is necessary. In others, early surgery or radiotherapy is vital.

Professor Malcolm Mason, Cancer Research UK’s prostate cancer expert, said: “Accurately diagnosing and predicting the need for treatment of prostate cancer is fraught with difficulties and there is no escaping the fact that we need a better tool than PSA to help detect prostate cancers that actually need treating. Men need to be counselled about the upsides and downsides of having a PSA test and the uncertainties that it can raise.

“We urgently need to find better tests that tell us more about a man’s prostate cancer. Is the disease going to sit quietly in the background and never cause a problem or do we need to treat it aggressively? If we can accurately answer these questions, we could spare thousands of men unnecessary treatment that can lead to side effects like impotence and incontinence.”

During the last 10 years UK death rates from prostate cancer have fallen by 11 per cent, from 26.8 to 23.8 per 100,000 men.

Professor Peter Johnson, Cancer Research UK’s chief clinician, said there was an urgent need for new treatments for advanced prostate cancer.

“Cancer Research UK supported the initial development of a drug called abiraterone that is currently going through Nice (National Institute for health and Clinical Excellence) approval and could be an effective drug for men who have advanced prostate cancer that has come back after chemotherapy,” he said.

“We’re also funding projects to improve our understanding of the disease. As part of the International Cancer Genome Consortium, we’re funding a project to sequence all the genes in 250 different prostate cancers, which we hope will pinpoint the genes that are driving them. This could help us identify men who are more likely to have the aggressive form of prostate cancer.”

A Department of Health spokesman said: “The increase in the number of prostate cancers diagnosed over the last two decades is largely down to men living longer and the increase in the level of prostate specific antigen (PSA) testing.

“Although the diagnosis of less aggressive cancers will have contributed to the fall in death rates, we don’t underestimate the impact of major improvements in treating the disease that have improved outcomes for many men.

“All men over 50 are entitled to a free PSA test on the NHS provided they have made an informed choice in consultation with their GP.”

A spokeswoman for The Prostate Cancer Charity said: “These statistics clearly show a rise in cases of prostate cancer over the last 10 years.

“We assume that it is because more PSA tests are taking place and awareness of this disease is rising but we cannot be sure.

“The PSA test is only part of the pathway for diagnosing prostate cancer and we have no evidence as to whether more men are asking for the test, more doctors are suggesting it or otherwise.

“In the meantime, this increase in numbers highlights the scale of the disease and that we simply can’t ignore it. As a result the health systems across the UK must prioritise the treatment and care of men with prostate cancer and quality must be increased.

“Despite recent improvements, prostate cancer still lags behind other common cancers in terms of investment in research, services and access to effective treatments. That is why we are developing national standards of care for prostate cancer to ensure men with the disease receive the same high quality service wherever they are in the country.

“These issues urgently need to be addressed if we to avoid leaving men with prostate cancer behind once again.”