By Nikki Murfitt, Last updated at 5:34 PM on 26th February 2012
Like most siblings, the five Gregory brothers had never lived in each other’s pockets. Occasional phone calls, family gatherings or special anniversaries were fitted around work commitments and bringing up their own children.
But the death of the eldest brother, Derek, from prostate cancer in 1986 revealed a legacy that has forced them all to face up to a disease that affects 35,000 men a year in the UK.
‘Losing Derek was a terrible time for us, but I suppose there is a certain comfort in the fact that his death saved our lives,’ says Michael Gregory, 61.
For Michael and his brothers David, 71, Terry, 66, and Trevor, 63, would all later discover that they, too, were suffering from the disease – but they might never have had themselves checked out had it not been for Derek.
Forty per cent of prostate cancers are familial, and the risk doubles if a male sibling is diagnosed.
The prostate is a small gland in the male reproductive system and its main function is to produce seminal fluid for semen. An inability to pass urine is one of the most common symptoms of the cancer. The growth presses on the urethra, the tube that carries urine, and blocks the flow.
Michael, from Swindon, says: ‘Derek started noticing symptoms about 18 months before he died. At that time tests weren’t as good as they are now and the fact he had trouble emptying his bladder was dismissed as an old man’s complaint, even though he was only 55.
‘But after suffering agony on a holiday in Spain because he couldn’t go to toilet, he went to hospital in Swindon and doctors immediately suspected he had prostate problems.
‘A biopsy revealed it was cancer and although he had radiotherapy treatment, it was too late and he died in June 1986.’
When David Gregory, a plasterer, began experiencing similar difficulty passing water in 2000, he wasted no time going to see his GP.
David had a biopsy and the tests came back negative. But after continuing to suffer pain and discomfort, he went back for a second biopsy a year later and that proved positive.
Six months of radiotherapy followed and David returned to work after his successful treatment. He now has annual tests for prostate specific antigen (PSA), a substance present in the blood which is used to identify men at increased risk of having the disease – the only definitive test available for prostate cancer.
Then in June 2004, Michael and Trevor, because of their family history, were approached by Synexus, a company that carries out clinical trials, and were asked to take PSA tests. Michael’s was negative but Trevor’s indicated a high risk of prostate cancer and he was given a biopsy, which proved positive.