Life / Health

Movember: Men still avoiding the doctor’s office

Starting next week, clean-shaven men will be stubbly, then scruffy before sporting full-blown handlebar ’staches. Yes, it’s Movember.

The message behind Movember is to encourage conversations about men’s health and raise money for prostate cancer, testicular cancer and mental-health issues. Participants, called Mo Bros, start with a clean-shaven face and grow a mo over the course of November — no beards or goatees allowed.

There’s a need to have these conversations because men still shy away from going to the doctor. Women, on the other hand, come from a culture where they talk about their breast and menstrual health from an early age, and that’s perfectly acceptable, says Peter Mallette, executive director of Prostate Cancer Canada’s Atlantic Regional Office in Halifax.

Men’s reluctance to visit their general practitioner is problematic, since early detection is so critical in fighting all cancers. And that’s where campaigns like Movember come in.

“This is not just about the finger in the bum,” says Pete Bombaci, country director of Movember Canada. “It is about a broader awareness of your health and the different components to diagnosing prostate cancer.”

“If a guy is talking about anything below the belt, he’s usually lying or boasting,” says Mallette. “I’m convinced a lot of the men who show up at a doctor’s office for a prostrate exam are there because a woman has made the appointment for them. We just don’t think it’s going to happen to us.”

But one in eight men are diagnosed with prostate cancer each year — and about 4,000 men in Canada will die from it — making it more prevalent than breast cancer.

If it’s detected early, however, it’s almost always treatable and survivable. The challenge is getting men to get screened.

Mallette is one of those survivors. “Prostate cancer is not an old man’s disease,” he says. “I was in my 40s. Younger and younger men are being diagnosed. Our position is when you turn 40, you should start having that conversation with your doctor ... especially if there is a genetic link in your family.”

Men between the ages of 20 to 50 are usually deeply invested in work and family, and unless there’s a big red flag, they tend not to seek help because of the assumption that everything is going well, says Dr. John Oliffe, a Mo Bro and professor at the University of B.C.

“Prostate cancer is a classic example — very few men have symptoms.”

So once it becomes symptomatic, the disease has likely advanced. Those side effects include urinary incontinence and issues relating to sexual function and “guys just don’t want to think about it,” Mallette says.

“This isn’t going to change in one year,” says Bombaci. “This is going to take many years of men growing moustaches, (but) we will win this battle together to reinforce with men that it’s OK to not be invincible and it’s OK to seek help when you’re not feeling well.”

Mo Sistas

In many cases, women are the “gatekeepers” of a man’s health, whether booking an appointment with his doctor or encouraging him to do it. Women can continue to do what they’ve always done: support the loved ones in their life, says Bombaci. Women can also register as a Mo Sista during Movember. “You can do everything a Mo Bro can do other than grow the moustache,” says Bombaci. Getting women to encourage the men in their life to grow a mo and open up about their health is a powerful component of the campaign. “Women have been really good about looking after the health of the men in their lives, but I’d encourage men to encourage their mates or buddies to look after their health,” says Oliffe. “Oftentimes it’s the permission of men that helps you do things.”

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