Movember is an important annual event that goes beyond simple manscaping efforts in November – it’s also here to remind us of the many physical and mental health challenges that men in the UK and across the world face on a daily basis.
Despite being associated with the sudden growth of moustaches all across the world and raising awareness of cancers that predominantly affect men, Movember has grown to serve as a month to focus on all aspects of men’s health – from both a physical and mental health standpoint. There are many reasons why this month is needed. Men, on average, not only die 4 years earlier than women but are also three times as likely to commit suicide too.
Each November, we raise awareness on not only prostate cancer and testicular cancer, but also on previously taboo topics such as male mental health and suicide prevention, as well as conditions such as impotence or erectile dysfunction. We here at Better Healthcare Services understand the talking about male mental and physical health is of paramount importance. Therefore, we have decided to highlight some of the health care challenges that men face in support of one of November’s most famed annual events.
Whether through exposure to carcinogens (cancer-causing agents such as asbestos or smoke) or through genetics, many men face an increased risk of cancer. On top of that, men are also 37% more likely to die from cancer than women. While some of this is to do with male-specific cancers versus the cancers that mainly affect women, it can be primarily blamed on poor awareness and a late presentation of symptoms to doctors.
This is likely due to the fact that men have, historically, been far less willing to access NHS services than women. One UK study in 2012 found that, on average, men would visit their GP four times a year; whereas women visited their GP six times a year. This difference is even starker when you consider annual pharmacy visits from the same study, with women making 18 visits a year compared to men’s 4 visits a year. Men were only likely to visit their doctor if they had a serious health issue. With symptoms being left unchecked and men being more at risk of cancer than women it is no surprise that there are more males cases of terminal cancer.
Events such as Movember have served to improve the differences in recognition of health and self-care across the genders. Though doing invaluable work, there is much more to be done. Men can deal with a range of cancers (including breast cancer) and are a staggering 67% more likely to die from cancers that affect both men and women (such as bowel or skin cancers). This is perhaps best illustrated when, in 2015, more men died in England and Wales from breast cancer than from testicular cancer.
Though a positive sign that awareness of male cancers such as prostate cancer and testicular cancer could be improving, more can still be done. Until numbers continue to decrease, we must all work to encourage conversation about cancers that almost exclusively affect men or people who were assigned male at birth (AMAB). With men dying too young, we can no longer afford to stay silent.
Despite the reduction in deaths as a result of testicular cancer (down 83% since the early 1970s), there are still 64 deaths a year in the UK caused by testicular cancer. Over 2,000 people in the UK will be diagnosed with testicular cancer every year and, unfortunately, the disease doesn’t have any clear preventable risk factors. However, it is known that it mostly affects men between the ages of 15 and 49. People who have previously had testicular cancer, who have family members who have had testicular cancer and those with undescended testicles are more at risk of developing the disease. Testicular cancer is highly treatable, and chances are dramatically improved by early detection.
The main symptom of testicular cancer is a swelling or lump on either testicle, which is located inside the scrotum (the skin that covers the testicles). The lump can range in size from a pea-sized mound to that of larger circumference.
Other symptoms may include:
- increased testicle firmness
- a heavy feeling in the scrotum
- cosmetic differences between testicles
- any sharp or dull pains within the testicle or scrotum
- aches in the groin or abdomen
- back pain
The best way to spot testicular cancer is to perform a self-check. This can easily be done when you go for a bath or shower. Have a feel of your testicles and get to know how they normally present. If you continue to do this, it will allow you to better identify when something feels different or off. With a dramatic increase in survival rates over the course of the past 50 years, it’s clear that more men are aware of the warning signs and, crucially, are familiarising themselves with any changes to their testicles. If you do spot something, then head straight to the doctors and get it checked out by a professional.
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer found in men in the UK. Despite testicular cancer getting a lot of attention, more than 47,500 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer each year. The prostate is a gland found in the pelvic region of men and people who were AMAB. The prostate is vital in helping to produce the fluid that carries sperm within semen. Prostate cancer occurs when cells in the prostate grow and multiply in an excessive way.
Unlike testicular cancer, the signs aren’t always obvious and it may take years for symptoms to be fully realised. Some men may experience problems urinating, but these can be mild and as such, difficult to associate with cancer. They can also be a sign of other prostate conditions such as an enlarged prostate or prostatitis. If you notice any changes when you urinate it is important that you visit your GP.
The risk factors associated with prostate cancer are mainly unavoidable. While testicular cancer is more likely to affect younger men, prostate cancer is more likely to affect those above 50 years old. It’s more common in people of particular racial backgrounds, such as those of African or African-Caribbean descent, while it is less prevalent in men of Asian descent. As with testicular cancer, those with a family history of prostate cancer are also at risk. Additionally, being overweight or obese is also linked to cancer.
While there is no easy test to detect prostate cancer regular prostate cancer screenings in men older than 50 are recommended. While there is currently no national screening programme in place for prostate cancer, every man over 50 has the right to request a prostate-specific antigen test (or PSA test). While it isn’t always accurate, due to the fact that about 15% of men with prostate cancer have normal PSA levels, regular annual screening can help ensure that it gets spotted as soon as possible.
It’s your right to access this test and you should take advantage of it to help put your mind at rest. As it isn’t totally accurate, it’s important to note the primary symptoms associated with prostate cancer, namely:
- an increased need to urinate
- a feeling that the bladder hasn’t properly emptied
- any straining or discomfort that can be felt when you pee
- weak flow of urine
- blood in urine or semen
Combining regular screening with the increased observance of any changes when you urinate will give you the best chance of spotting prostate cancer. Over the past 50 years, the mortality rate in prostate cancer has increased by 18% so it’s important to bring the attention of any changes in your toilet habits to your GP as soon as you spot them.
Impotence and erectile dysfunction
Symptoms of erectile dysfunction (ED) and wider impotence problems have been seen as a sign of embarrassment and shame by many men, often due to how such conditions have been portrayed in the media. Yet it’s more common than you think and it’s likely that you know multiple people who are suffering in silence with the condition. It’s thought that close to 50% of all men under the age of 50 have suffered (or are suffering) from erectile dysfunction – when a person is unable to obtain or sustain an erection.
ED is one aspect under the umbrella term impotence. While the two can be used interchangeably (impotence can be used to describe ED), it can also refer to other common health concerns such as a low libido (low sex drive), inability to achieve an orgasm or premature ejaculation.
While there may be psychological causes for these conditions, they can also be indicative of underlying physical conditions too – such as diabetes, heart disease or even low testosterone levels (known as hypogonadism). Erectile dysfunction can even occur as a result of treatment for prostate cancer.
There’s absolutely no shame in having any symptom of impotence, particularly as so many men – including those who are younger – live with these symptoms. By going to your doctor, you will be able to talk about your concerns in private and receive treatment. It is important to realise that the best course of action, is immediate action. Your symptoms may well be partially or completely resolved.
One of the most increasingly important issues that Movember has dealt with in recent years is in relation to men’s mental health. As aforementioned, men have a tendency to not reach out to others for help with their physical and mental health problems. It is averaged that 1 in 4 of us will experience mental health problems this year in the UK; that means a lot of men are living with the day-to-day effects of mental health. Suicide is the leading cause of death in men aged 20 to 34 – with men making up about 75% of all suicides in the UK.
Whatever the societal, cultural or psychological reasons behind this phenomenon, we do know that this can be changed. For years, men have lived with the stigma of suffering in silence. This is often the result of perceptions of what masculinity is: being stoic, not needing to rely on anyone for help, not showing any vulnerability and just ‘getting on with it’. This unhealthy stereotype can cause many men to feel like they must close off their emotions to themselves and their loved ones.
However, overcoming these stigmas need not be a big task. Often it starts with one action – reaching out. Whether it’s talking with a loved one, a GP or even just giving a helpline a call, reaching out to someone to talk about your problems can start the process. Taking this first step is the best way to get you back to feeling good about yourself.
There are a lot of people who care about you and are ready and willing to listen– even if you don’t think that’s the case or if that seems impossible to imagine right now. They may be just a phone call or email away.
The Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) has a helpline specifically for men on 0800 58 58 58 from 5pm to midnight every day. If talking to a stranger seems scary, you can send loved ones a text or give them a call. They may be doing other things that require their immediate attention, but they may also be in a place to offer you the conversation and support that you need.
If you notice your husband, father, son, brother or friend feeling or acting this way, try reaching out to them. Talk to them, ask them about the things that are getting them down, listen to them, encourage them to take positive steps and check with them to make sure they are still doing okay.
By talking about these problems, we can all help de-stigmatise mental health and, in particular, men’s mental health. If we all feel comfortable to talk to someone about our problems – regardless of our gender – then we are all in a better place. Getting to the point where our respective problems are acknowledged and accepted is the best way to tackle them, together.
Better Healthcare supports men’s health awareness
At Better Healthcare, we understand that sometimes it can hard to talk about the health issues you are going through. We would like to let you know that there is help out there, from charities such as CALM and the Samaritans. If you are suffering from a health issue and need help around the house, give us a call on 0800 668 1234 to see how our carers can help. Or you can call one of our local offices.