By the end of November, many brothers, sons, and fathers will have grown an impressive amount of facial hair. As cool as these mustaches and goatees look, it isn’t lumberjack chic these men are trying to bring attention to—it’s men’s health.
“Movember is a world-wide event where men shave on Nov. 1, and let their mustaches grow for men’s health,” said Vincent White, a spokesperson for Movember Canada. “[We] use the power of the mustache to engage in conversation [about] prostate cancer, testicular cancer, and mental health.”
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer among Canadian men, according to Movember Canada. One in eight men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer and of these, an estimated 4,000 will die from it. Consequently, 50 per cent of the funds collected by the organization go towards prostate cancer research.
Through their partner, Prostate Cancer Canada, Movember funds go directly towards research. Movember Canada’s goals are to find treatments for more aggressive forms of prostate cancer, and build up survivorship programs.
Dr. Michael Pollak, director of the Division of Cancer Prevention of the Department of Oncology at McGill, is currently working to develop treatments for prostate cancer.
“Our own research involves understanding a little more about how prostate cancer is actually stimulated by testosterone,” Pollak said. “We know that male hormones stimulate the growth of prostate cancer, but we don’t know exactly how that works.”
The prostate gland is responsible for producing fluid that protects and enriches sperm, and cancer begins to develop when cells from the prostate reproduce and mutate uncontrollably. The main problem facing doctors and researchers when trying to treat prostate cancer is the difficulty in detecting it. Prostate cancer will usually develop without symptoms until the tumour is already in late stages of development.
Recently, however, prostate cancer screening has come under scrutiny for its false positives. The controversial Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) test is one of the most commonly used prostate cancer exams.
“The PSA test is a blood test that tends to be abnormal if people have prostate cancer,” Pollak said. “It’s [useful] to help tell how a man who has prostate cancer is doing, but it’s controversial if a healthy man should have a PSA test, [because] it picks up a lot of men who don’t have prostate cancer.”
The PSA test is proving inefficient due to its sensitivity. Many healthy men will go through intense and invasive surgeries without having aggressive cancer. Instead, Dr. Pollak recommends a traditional rectal examination that is much less likely to result in a false positive.
One risk factor for prostate cancer is age; as men get older, they are more and more likely to contract the disease, and the risk doubles if a man has a family history of prostate cancer.
“Prostate cancer runs in my family,” stated Kieran Steer, a U3 Pharmacology student who plans on participating in Movember. “I think it’s important to put money into something that’s a prevalent problem in men, and I’m sure [the research] would help cure a lot of other cancers as well.”
However, involvement doesn’t stop with men; White encourages women to get involved too.
“‘Mo Sistas’ [women who support Movember] are the gate-keepers to family health,” White said. “We don’t encourage women to grow mustaches, but we do encourage them to take part.”
Movember is about having conversations. A person should decide on the merits of a PSA test by having a discussion with a doctor. Movember aims to change the face of men’s health by changing men’s faces, where a mustache is a walking billboard to start the conversation.