Here Comes “Movember?” (Or Not)

Here Comes “Movember?” (Or Not) October 30, 2015

Here Comes “Movember?” (Or Not)

A few years ago I was strolling on the downtown pedestrian zone of Boulder, Colorado when I saw an intriguing sign in a store window. The sign was announcing a movement and month-long fund raising project called “Movember.” It explained that the purpose was to raise money for men’s health, especially cancer awareness and research, during November by asking men not to shave. I never did really figure out how that would raise money, but I guess it’s something like one of the many “runs” and “walks” we see advertised to raise awareness of and funds for research to end various diseases.

I went to the web site the store window sign mentioned and learned that Movember began in Australia and spread to the United Kingdom and was now entering the U.S. The focus of the fund-raising event was prostate cancer and other forms of cancer that mainly affect men. (A little known fact I have never seen mentioned by any health organization: More men than women die of cancer.)

A couple years ago, during November, I saw a couple table top signs (e.g., at a gym) about Movember. These had opportunities (jars, boxes, information) to contribute towards research to end men’s cancer. I gladly contributed. I was actually excited that, for once (in a very long time), someone was attempting to promote men’s health specifically.

February is a month devoted by the American Heart Association to women’s heart health. One motto often seen in conjunction with that program is “More women than men die of heart disease.” Another is “Heart disease is not a ‘men’s disease’.” What they don’t say (so far as I’ve seen or heard) is that “heart disease” there includes elderly women’s heart failure—which many women die of in their eighties and nineties. Early life classical heart attacks continue to take many more men’s lives than women’s. (According to the AHA’s own heart attack calculator a sixty year old man is eight times more likely to suffer a classical heart attack than a sixty year old woman—everything else being equal.)

So far as I know there is no month devoted to men’s heart disease; if there is nobody seems to advertise it or use it to raise funds for research. The only time of the year any focus is placed on men’s health is around Father’s Day. Even then there’s not much mentioned beyond the traditional “Get an annual physical checkup” message.

I was recently informed by the American Cancer Society (via e-mail) that September was “Prostate Cancer Month.” Really? I pay pretty close attention to public service announcements and fund raising efforts about health—at store checkout lines, billboards, placards in store windows, newspaper ads placed by medical and health-related organizations and the government, television spots, etc. I did not see or hear anything about prostate cancer during September. (And I receive frequent mass e-mails from the American Cancer Society.)

Of course, anyone who is paying any attention at all knows October is Breast Cancer Month. Everywhere one turns there are pink signs, commercials, public service announcements, etc. I am not complaining about that! I am only contrasting the all-to-the-good hype about breast cancer throughout the year and especially during October with the near total ignoring of prostate cancer. About thirty-five thousand men die of prostate cancer each year; about two hundred and fifty thousand are diagnosed with prostate cancer each year. The treatment for prostate cancer is often debilitating, causing incontinence.

Last year during November I noticed a change. Instead of “Movember” and fund raising for men’s cancers, the few signs and invitations to contribute I saw about cancer were “No Shave November.” No mention of men or prostate cancer. This year I asked the American Cancer Society and they told me “No Shave November” is their sponsored month-long awareness and fund raising program and has nothing to do with “Movember” and is not about men’s health specifically. It appears to me that “Movember” has been pushed aside.

During the last few years a major health organization that includes a network of hospitals in my region of the country has sponsored a women’s health event in several locations. These are announced with billboards, newspaper ads, mentions in “calendars of events” in monthly publications, etc. There’s a lot of public hype to attract women to this event that includes a banquet, fashion show, etc., but is also, and mainly, an opportunity for women to hear from doctors about women’s health and ask them questions.

Finally, this year, the health organization is holding a one evening event for men’s health at several locations in the region. I have registered to attend, but I have seen very little advertising about it. No billboards, no mention in magazine events calendars, etc. Nothing like the hype for the women’s health event earlier in the year. I suspect that if not many men show up for it that will be used as further evidence that “men don’t care about men’s health.” But how many men would come if the organization devoted as much advertising as to the women’s health event?

I am not asking for less attention to women’s health; I am only asking medical and health related organizations, including government agencies, all of them non-profit and allegedly not gender biased, to do more for men’s health. Men’s life expectancy remains five to six years less than women’s. Even if that is their own fault (as some always respond), more attention needs to be given to getting men to pay more attention to their health. One thing that would help is if parents took their sons to the doctor for an annual checkup (including a private conversation with the doctor) beginning at puberty just as they typically do with their daughters—to get boys in the habit of seeing a doctor (once annually) even if they aren’t sick. I think one reason men avoid annual medical checkups is because, unlike their female peers, they were never introduced to the idea of annual checkups by their parents or teachers.

Men’s health is also a women’s issue because, very often when men die they leave behind a widow, if not a family, that is financially less well off than before. I often hear that one reason non-profit health organizations and government agencies don’t pay much attention to men’s health is because men don’t care about their health. So, the answer to that is, push public service announcements about men’s health at women—to get them to urge their husbands, fathers, sons, brothers and friends to get annual medical exams.

So, friends, Movember is coming. Oh, apparently not—at least not from any major national health organization or government entity.

So, friends, what should you do about this if you care? E-mail the American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society and urge them to do more publicly for men’s health. Make an appointment for yourself or a loved one for an annual medical checkup at a doctor’s office. Let local health organizations such as hospitals know that you wish they would focus more on men’s health than they do. Mention to managers of stores, banks, restaurants and other places where women’s health is promoted by signs and placards, etc., that you would enjoy seeing something similar about men’s health from time to time. Give them the name of a non-profit organization to contact for help (e.g., The Prostate Cancer Foundation).

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