For the past several years, I’ve spent an entire month out of the year growing what I like to call my Tom Selleck mustache. Given my clean-shaven look 11 months of the year, this ‘stache takes some people by surprise, prompting questions, conversations — and some funny looks. And that’s exactly the point of this annual adventure in facial hair: to get people talking. What many of these curious questioners don’t expect is a quick lesson in men’s health.
What’s the deal with all those mustaches in November?
Since 2003, the Movember Foundation has raised $911 million to fund more than 1,200 programs focused on prostate and testicular cancer, mental health issues, and physical inactivity. The global charity is dedicated to resolving what it considers an international crisis: on average men around the world are dying six years earlier than women for variety of reasons. Often, this disparity is because men don’t go to the doctor’s office for regular checkups nearly as often as women do, so they miss out on early detection of heart disease and cancer — the two leading causes of death for men, according to the Centers for Disease Control. A growing number are being diagnosed with male-specific illnesses like testicular and prostate cancers.
Mo Bros — guys participating in Movember — recruit friends and family to pledge money to support their moustache-growing efforts. Besides raising awareness and funds, Movember brings attention to the mental health disparities between genders. According to the World Health organisation (WHO), the vast majority of suicide victims are men, outnumbering women at a ratio of almost two to one.
As a man — and a healthcare provider treating these issues — I’m particularly passionate about the Movember cause. With a few fun weeks of living out my Magnum PI fantasies, I get to raise awareness and collect donations that directly fund biomedical and clinical research by the Prostate Cancer Foundation in the US, as well as global education and prevention campaigns. There are so many reasons Movember is worth your attention, but here are my top three:
1. You or someone you know could directly benefit from the organisation’s mission.Testicular cancer is the most common cancer in men between the ages of 15 and 35 in Australia, and prostate cancer is the second most common cancer in men around the world. The number of prostate cancer cases is expected to double in the next 15 years, while testicular cancer rates have already doubled in the last 50 years. I know firsthand how painful it can be to see a loved one suffer: my wife’s grandfather died of prostate cancer several years ago, and his illness and ultimate death affected the entire family in a profound way. Although not every case of prostate cancer is so aggressive, his happened to be particularly resistant to current treatment options.
2. Screening and treating men’s health issues can (and should) be a whole lot better than it is.
The truth is, the options for screening and treatment for illnesses like prostate cancer could be a lot better. The primary screening test for prostate cancer, the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test, often leads to over-detection, and over-treatment, of prostate cancers that would not have caused significant harm during a patient’s lifetime. As such, many health agencies recommends against this screening test for low-risk men. As a physician assistant, I hear men breathe an audible sigh of relief any time I assure them a prostate exam (also known as a digital rectal exam) or PSA test isn’t necessary thanks to their low risk. While prostate cancer can be treated successfully, treatment can cause devastating side effects like erectile dysfunction and urinary incontinence.
3. Men just don’t get seen enough for health stuff.
According to the Movember Australia stats, 61% of men have neglected visiting a doctor even when they needed to go. And when men are hospitalized,
it’s more likely to be for complications from serious issues like congestive heart failure, pneumonia, and diabetes that could have been uncovered
in routine visits or better managed with regular follow up. Whether it’s due to cultural beliefs and stereotypes around masculinity and machismo or
the fear of invasive physical exams, guys just don’t like to get seen or even talk about health issues. Movember gets men and women talking about the
importance of these issues and how they can help and support one another in staying healthy. If my Tom Selleck ‘stache can play a small part in
sparking that conversation, I’m all for it.
While many charitable organisations don’t make it easy to see how the funds collected are spent, that’s not the case with Movember. None of the money goes to operational overhead or salaries and Movember funds are easy to track thanks to the Movember report cards, which list each of the 1,200-plus projects funded, as well as the amounts donated to date, and each organisation’s mission. The extensive list includes The Prostate Cancer Foundation, which supports research to reduce the death rate of recurrent or advanced prostate cancer (almost $56 million to date); the Global Health and Wellbeing Survey, which aims to increase understanding of men’s health issues across five countries (nearly $879 thousand to date); and the GAP5 Global Testicular Cancer Translational Research Initiative ($828 thousand to date), which investigates the biology behind testicular cancer relapse in order to understand why some men with early stage disease relapse after treatment and others don’t.