Experts advise men to take issues of their health more seriously.
By Olayemi Okeniyi
The Movember Foundation derived its name from the combination of the words: moustache and November. It started in Australia in 2004 as an annual moustache-growing event to create awareness and raise funds for men’s health.
Movember may appear to be a vain endeavour with a funny name. But in the last seven years, it has proved to be a valuable tool in efforts to improve the well-being of men.
All members of the Movember Foundation and its supporters across the world begin the month of November by shaving their faces with the intention of growing and grooming admirable moustaches throughout the month.
Observers, however, note that this seemingly ridiculous practice is an effective tool for advocacy, as men usually enjoy talking about sports, cars and clothes, while many of them do not care about their health.
According to Men’s Health Network (MHN), a non-profit UK-based educational organisation of physicians, researchers and other health stakeholders, women go to see doctors more often than men.
Jean Bonhomme, a board member of the MHN, attributed the development to the ethos of the society, which expects men to be tougher than women, while possessing unique ability to endure pains.
He, however, insisted that the biggest problem facing men is not about specific diseases but problems relating to diseases emerging from inadequate monitoring in their early stages of life.
Mr. Bonhomme expatiated that women live longer than men because women are more likely to seek medical advice whenever they experience any pain, discomfort or body changes.
The Movember Foundation said it wants to change men’s attitude towards their health by approaching men, who are asked about their moustache, as a way of instigating conversations with them on health matters.
“It allows men to go from talking about something as trivial as growing facial whiskers to something as deadly as prostate cancer.
“It does this by making men to talk about cancer and other illnesses during the month of November,” said Seun Olukunle, who grew a moustache last year when he was schooling in the UK.
Mr. Olukunle said that in the past, he was very passive on issues relating to his health, adding that he was at times coerced by his parents to consult a medical doctor on specific health problems.
“But now, I know that I have an increased risk of contracting diabetes and high blood pressure because of my family history; so, I try to watch my diet and keep fit,” he said.
Mr. Olukunle said the Movember Foundation is particularly interested in certain health problems, including cancer.
He stressed that in Nigeria, most people are not well-informed about diseases such as cancer, adding that they often try to avoid hearing anything which could confirm their greatest fears about their health.
“Nigerians are so afraid of cancer that even if they suspect that something is wrong; they try to ignore it with the hope that it will soon fade away.
“This is a very wrong approach to life, particularly in a developing country like Nigeria, which does not have enough resources to properly treat cancer cases, especially the advanced ones.
“Early detection of cancers greatly improves a person’s chances of survival,” Mr. Olukunle said.
A Consultant Radiotherapist at the University College Hospital, Ibadan, Oladapo Campbell, corroborated Mr. Olukunle’s viewpoint, saying that cervical, prostrate, and breast cancers are treatable if they are detected at an early stage.
He estimated that over 300 thousand new cases of cancer are diagnosed in Nigeria every year, while only 10 thousand cases could be effectively managed.
The Coordinator of the Lagos State branch of National Cancer Prevention Programme, Abia Nzelu, said that prostate cancer alone kills not less than 14 men everyday in Nigeria.
She attributed the development to the people’s ignorance, as most men often consult medical doctors about their health conditions late when the cancer symptoms have become advanced.
“When we had the Dana Air crash in June, Nigerians were all shouting. Each day, people are dying of cancer but because they are dying silently, we are not doing anything about it,” she said.
The Desk Officer, Cancer Control Unit, Abuja Public Health Department, Labara Larai, advised men to routinely carry out rectal examinations to detect abnormalities in the condition of their prostrate and testes.
She described cancer as an abnormal, unregulated, and uncontrollable growth of cells that cause disorders in the body.
Ms. Larai stressed that measures like self-rectal examination and routine prostate serum antigen tests are veritable ways of preventing prostate and testicular cancers.
She also urged men to consume foods that are rich in vitamins and proteins, adding that they should also engage in physical activities, while avoiding fatty foods, smoking and alcohol. She said other cancer prevention measures include adopting healthy lifestyles, drinking adequate water and reporting unusual body changes to healthcare providers.
She identified acute urine retention, painful urination, blood in urine, frequent urination, especially at night, and swelling of the testes as some of the symptoms of prostate and testicular cancer.
Ms. Larai, nonetheless, said that men of 55-years and above have a higher risk of contracting prostate cancer, while the risk for testicular cancer is highest for males with ages between 14 and 45 years.
However, one cancer that is commonly overlooked by men is breast cancer, as this form of cancer, though rare among males, is often more deadly when it occurs, according to Louis Obak, a surgeon at Garki Hospital, Abuja.
“Only 10 out of 100 men can survive the consequences of breast cancer,” he said.
The surgeon said that when men hear about breast cancer, they do not pay attention to it because they think that it is a woman’s disease.
He advised men to always imbibe the practice of undergoing medical checkup for breast cancer, especially if they are related to women who have discovered lumps in their breasts.
“Like women, men need to check for lumps, signs of discolouration and deformities in the nipples; they should also squeeze their breasts to see if a discharge comes out from the nipples. However, men don’t do that.
“This is because unlike men, women quickly notice changes in their breasts, while men may not clearly discover any changes until the disease worsens,’’ he said.
While cancer is one of the Movember Foundation’s top priorities, the foundation does not disregard other health issues.
However, the main message of the group is: Men should not ignore their health, so as to enable them to effectively perform their routine roles in the family and the society.