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Behind the Scenes of Movember: the Impact on Men’s Health Research

Posted on Nov 05, 2013 by Ruth Loftus  | Tags: cancer, prostate, testicular, LIVESTRONG, mental health, research, funding, grants, moustache, November.

It’s that time of year again. No, we are not referring to Halloween, the time of witch’s hats and carved pumpkins across North America; nor the sparklers or fireworks that signify Bonfire Night in England. It’s Movember time of course. This November marks the 10th anniversary of the mustache growing- charity event which raises money for medical research and community support services related to prostate cancer, testicular cancer and men’s mental health.

Prostate cancer is the most common non skin cancer in the US, and affects 1 in 6 men across the country; testicular cancer is much less common, but it gets a lot of focus during Movember because it usually affects younger men between the ages of 15 and 44- many of whom are the target audience during the month long campaign. Movember spreads across the globe and gets men from all walks of life involved, from students to celebrities to pop stars and politicians. The event generates a huge amount of press coverage with photos posted all over social media networks and charity websites. In this article, we take a look behind the hype, and investigate what Movember really does to help improve men’s health.

Clearly, growing a moustache has a limited impact on health, and it is difficult to measure the amount of awareness the event raises. However, one of the easiest ways to analyse Movember’s success is to look at the money generated from fundraising and how it is then spent.

According to statistics, over £92 million was generated world wide from Movember fundraising activities in 2012. Every April, the funds from the most recent campaign are finalised and allocated to different men’s health projects. These projects vary from country to country depending on the different health challenges in specific areas and are often part of the leading national men’s health charities. Generally, these projects will fall into two main areas: the first is research, and the second is support for those affected by testicular and prostate cancer and their families. 

Prostate Cancer UK has been promised £7 million per year from the Movember Foundation to spend on research alone as part of their latest development - ‘Research Strategy 2012- 2020’. So far, this has been used to develop research into treatments for patients with early stages of prostate cancer. For example, researchers have recently discovered that African Caribbean men have a higher chance of developing prostate cancer. Funding has also been used to support a specialised prostate cancer research centre. In addition to this, money was awarded to 20 research institutes and seven PHD studentships, all of which are focussing on finding treatments for advanced prostate cancer as well as investigating enlargement of the prostate (benign prostate hyperplasia and diagnosing aggressive tumours). 

These research developments are only set to expand over the next three Movember campaigns of which it is estimated that £25 million will be generated to put towards further UK research. One huge development will be funding the UK’s only ‘Movember Centre of Excellence’ which will bring together expert researchers and clinicians to create a designated space for world-class training and top UK prostate cancer researchers.

Over the next three years, research will mainly focus on: identifying men at high risk of developing prostate cancer; develop better screening methods to distinguish aggressive forms of prostate cancer from non-aggressive forms, and finding new treatments specifically for advanced prostate cancer. Throughout the world, these research projects will vary, but the more funding there is, the more researchers and clinicians can work towards a global impact on reducing prostate cancer risks.

In addition to research, money generated from the Movember campaign will also go towards helping men with health problems to ensure they receive the treatment and support they need. In the United States, the LIVESTRONG Foundation offers a huge range of support services for men, women and children affected by cancer. The foundation is also funded by Movember to help men with prostate and testicular cancer to receive information and guidance about the diseases so that they can learn about the options available to them.

Their initiatives include: bilingual access to medical information so that they can have a better understanding of treatments and side effects as well as a financial service to help reduce the additional burden of the costs associated with cancer treatment.

Earlier this year, the Radiation Co-Payment Small Grant Financial Aid Fund was created to serve prostate cancer patients who earn less than $60,000 per year. The Fund allocates $1,000 grants towards potentially life saving radiation therapy treatment for men who would otherwise struggle to cover the costs. The LIVESTRONG Foundation also provides patients with regular access to navigators and social workers who can provide more emotional support and counselling for patients and their families.

This aspect of emotional support for men is also becoming an increasingly important part of Movember. Many counselling and support groups work worldwide to help male cancer patients who are otherwise less likely to talk about their diagnosis because of cultural stereotypes regarding masculinity over vulnerability. These aspects of cancer treatment form an important part of Movember’s wider efforts to support men’s mental health and the growing need for services to help men suffering from mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. Statistically, men are much more difficult to treat because they are less likely than women to seek medical advice for mental health problems in the first place or even report symptoms of common health problems to their doctor. Furthermore, instead of seeking medical advice, depressed men are more likely to increase their health risks by abusing alcohol or drugs, increase stress levels and blood pressure by over- working or partaking in risky behaviour such as drunk driving or sexual encounters. Therefore, one of Movember’s other main focus areas is working with mental health services to carry out research and develop practical solutions to reduce the stigma and discrimination that men face.

So while the month of November will involve many an amusing moustache, understand that when the facial hair is shaved off at the end of the month, the Movember Foundation’s work is really just beginning.


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