By Emilio Aguinaldo
“Movember” is observed each November when guys worldwide put razors away to grow moustaches and beards to raise money to help fight men’s health issues and raise awareness about testicular and prostate cancer and such male medical issues as depression and suicide. The UMHS Endeavour is featuring Movember for the sixth year in a row, showing how students at U.S. and Caribbean medical schools can get involved.
As Movember’s website says, “Globally, men die on average six years earlier than women, and for largely preventable reasons. So we’re shining a light on the health risks men need to know about, increasing awareness to stop men dying too young.”
The UMHS Endeavour spoke to various students and a faculty member to find out why many feel men’s cancer awareness and men’s health issues are important topics that need to be discussed more, both in the public and the medical community.
What UMHS Students Think
Our students have a lot to say about Movember and the light it shines on important men’s health issues.
“I think it’s a creative way to increase awareness about prostate cancer,” said Frances Rodriguez, EBS 4. “People will always ask ‘why don’t you shave?’ and it’s a good way to have a conversation and a good opportunity to inform everyone what it’s all about. I think what made this campaign so successful is the participation of young people and their ability to utilize social media.”
The stigma involved with how screening is conducted for prostate cancer might keep some men from getting checked out, said Faviola Laureano, EBS 4. “Many men are reluctant to talk about their experiences, let alone have it done. But if they can understand how important this is, it can help discover prostate cancer in its early stages when there’s a higher success in treatment.”
“Movember is very new compared to the female equivalent [pink ribbon awareness campaign for breast cancer] and maybe what took so long to start something like this is the stigma behind men opening up and talking about their health. There is this false mentality that strong men shouldn’t have a mental or emotional weakness”
Movember appeals to millennials and Generation Z and that’s a good thing for spreading the word among young people.
“What’s cool about this campaign is that it gets the younger male demographic to be involved; that’s very important in changing the mentality early on, especially in trying to reverse this reluctance in males to be more open about health issues like prostate cancer, testicular cancer, mental health, depression, etc.”, said Alejandra Enery Diaz, EBS 4.
Ms. Diaz has personal reasons for wanting more men to get screened for prostate cancer.
“It hits really close to home because my own grandfather never went for any prostate check; he only went when he started getting some discomfort. and now he’s telling my dad who’s also reluctant to go and get checked. ‘Look what happened to me, don’t let it happen to you.’ I think if my grandfather had only gone earlier, it wouldn’t have been as complicated. You shouldn’t wait until you’re hurting; you should take care of yourself and part of that is being proactive and getting checked.”
Prostate cancer affects all men. Just because one does not have a family history of prostate cancer is no reason to avoid screening.
“We need to be aware that prostate cancer can happen to anyone,” said Hermes Gordian, EBS 4. “Turning a blind eye and ignoring it doesn’t make it go away. You think to yourself that it happens to other people—no one in my family has it—but if you have that attitude, you might get it and by that time it might be too late. You might have to go through some suffering or complications that you didn’t have to if only it was caught earlier.
Simple screening at one’s primary care doctor is often a good first step for most men. As Mr. Gordian said, “People tend to be so uncomfortable with the thought of going through the digital rectal exam, but I’d rather do it than go through the suffering when the cancer is advanced. In Puerto Rican culture, we’re taught not to cry or be weak. which is probably why we have this problem with men not wanting to go to the doctor or sharing their issues with one another.”
UMHS Professor Dr. Lee’s Perspective
Why did it take so long to start a campaign for men’s health like Movember for men?
“There’s a general reluctance in males to discuss medical issues,” said Peter Lee, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Behavioral Sciences at UMHS. “They tend to keep it to themselves. It’s not a topic for discussion. Conversely, women are much more likely to share medical information with one another. and so the lack of discussion takes it out of the agenda.”
Dr. Lee noted that a more interesting question would be, “Are there any differences in men’s reluctance to get help, and discuss health issues across cultures? How does a culture that might be more patriarchal respond to a campaign like this? Are there ways to tweak the campaign to cater to these cultural differences?”
Although some have criticized the campaign and call it just a gimmick, Dr. Lee said he thinks Movember does a lot of good.
“Anything—conversation, research, knowledge, fundraising—anything that has moved in that direction, we can consider as a success,” he said. “The fact that we’re talking about this in St Kitts must mean it’s a success.”
Besides prostate and testicular cancer, Movember also sheds light on men’s suicide, another male health problem that has a large stigma surrounding it.
“Our fathers, brothers, sons and friends are dying by suicide, every minute of every day,” the organization’s website states. “We won’t accept this. To make change happen, Movember views mental health through a male lens. We focus on early intervention, engaging men and working to their strengths. By 2030, we aim to reduce the rate of male suicide by 25%.”
Emilio Aguinaldo is a second year UMHS medical student who has special interests in biomedical communications, e-health systems and medical outreach.
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