The Movember Movement And Its Effect On Malaysian Men

Two men enter a bar... and come up with a plan that changes the face of men’s health issues? Whoot?

  • Tuesday, 27 November 2018
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The Movember Movement And Its Effect On Malaysian Men

Grow a mo’, save a bro

It has been scientifically proven that men with facial hair are perceived to be more attractive. We mean, look at Chris Evans - who can easily transform from Mr. Sweetface to Mr. Hottie thanks to the mustache and beard.

If you need more names…George Clooney, Idris Elba, Jason Momoa… and the list goes on.

Celebrities aside, the trend of growing facial hair - specifically moustaches - has also caught on to the rest of the world, even more so during the month of November. This is thanks to the Movember Movement which goes by the tagline "grow a ‘mo, save a bro".

Contrary to somewhat popular belief, it is not a ‘hipster’ trend (at least not just that) but a movement to create more awareness about men’s health. 

What started out as a simple plan concotted over a few beers by two friends - Travis Garone and Luke Slattery - in Australia in 2003, turned into an official campaign the next year and has grown into a worldwide phenomenon.

Over the past 11 years, the Non-Profit Organisation (NGO) has managed to bring its causes to more than 21 countries and collect USD 17.1 million (RM71.5 million) in donation. 

The money goes into prostate and testicular cancer as well as men’s mental health awareness and researches. 

Become a facial bro.
Why men’s health issues, specifically? According to Movember Foundation’s website, it is because health issues are gender specific, and men’s health has not received the focus it should. The fact that men have lower lifespan compared to women, and this is preventable, spurred the movement. 

In Malaysia, there has not been any initiatives by the foundation itself, but the ripple effect did reach our shores. Many have taken up the challenge of growing a moustache and some organisations have even conducted donation drives to help raise fund and awareness. 

National Cancer Society Malaysia (NCSM) spokesperson, Calvin Fernandez, said that the popularity of the movement has encouraged many to learn more about it. As such, they have become more aware of cancer that affects men, while indulging in the ‘cool’ factor of the famous gimmick. 

Malaysia's most famous moustache.
“Through social media, the Movember campaign has created a new outlook for men’s cancer awareness in the country. 

“The campaign has indirectly allowed people to understand the different cancers that affect men such as prostate, testicular and lung cancers, why it is important to highlight them and what we can do to keep ourselves informed and aware, all while blending in and keeping up with an exciting trend,” said the NCSM Education Development Executive.

The Prostate Problem

Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer among men worldwide, and third in Malaysia. The number of men suffering from this type of cancer is expected to double to 1.7 million by 2030. Yet, there has not been enough awareness campaigns or targeted medical policies to tackle this issue. 

According to NCSM, 60 per cent of the cases in Malaysia are only detected at later stages (three and four) as there are no obvious symptoms for this type of cancer. The only way to detect it early is by conducting specific tests. 

So, what is prostate? It is a walnut-sized gland that surround the urethra (the tube that men urinate and ejaculate from) located between the bladder and penis. Prostate produces a component of semen, which nourishes and protects sperm. 

Prostate cancer happens when tumor(s) begin to grow in the prostate. This is usually a very slow process and can be harmless. However, if the tumor turns cancerous, it can spread to other parts of the body, especially the lymph nodes and bones. This can cause health complications, and in one in 41 cases, death.

The most frustrating part is perhaps the lack of ‘common’ symptoms, but some of the signs you should keep a lookout for are:
  • Frequent urination, especially at night.
  • Blood in urine or semen.
  • Weak or interrupted urine flow or the need to strain to empty the bladder.
  • Painful urination.
  • Painful erection.
  • Unable to have an erection. 
  • Stiffness or pain in the hips, lower back or upper thighs. 

If you notice any of these symptoms, consult a doctor immediately. Even if you don’t, go for regular check ups once you reach the age of 50, or 45 if there is a history of cancer in your family. 

The most common test for prostate cancer is a blood test to detect abnormal levels of  Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA).  Prostate produces PSA but an excess of the protein can indicate several issues, including cancer. Often, doctors prescribe antibiotics to rule out possibilities before ordering further tests if necessary. 

Another test that is conducted is Digital Rectal Examination (DRE), where the doctor will insert a finger into the patient’s anus to feel for any abnormality in the prostate gland. This is easily done as the gland is located next to the anus. The doctor looks out for lumps or uneven surfaces. 

A prostate ultrasound to detect tumour and a biopsy to test for cancerous cells is also a common detection technique. 

There are multiple treatment for prostate cancer, depending on the stage a patient is at, age and risk. Some of the most common treatments are prostatectomy (removal of the prostate gland), chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and in some cases where the tumor growth is very slow, watchful waiting. 

The Cancer 'Down There'

This type of cancer is fairly rare, and the numbers are almost negligible among Malaysian men (about 0.26% of overall cancer cases), according to the NCSM. 

However, it is no reason to take things for granted, as GRIMfilms founder and director Jared Lee found out earlier this year. 

Jared's life took a turn in February.
In February, Lee noticed a ‘tugging’ feeling between his abdomen and groin but ignored it for about a month. One night, he decided to check his testicles and realised that it wasn’t the usual size and asked his wife, Marianne Lee, to examine as well.

She did not detect any difference but Lee decided to call a friend, who is a doctor.

“I told my friend the symptoms and he said ‘Bro, this sounds serious. Why don’t you come over to my apartment to get checked’. So we went over,” he said during a phone interview with Rojak Daily.

“I was scared but I didn’t think it was cancer. When he checked, his face just changed,” Lee said, adding that the friend immediately called around looking for the best oncologist. 

The next few months were a roller-coaster ride for Lee and his wife, with appointments with doctors, a major surgery to remove a seven centimetre tumour and chemotherapy. 

“When we met the doctor, he said the size of the tumour made my case very critical. Usually, the tumour grows up to six centimetres. More than that, there are chances of the cancer to spread to other parts of the bodies especially the lymph nodes,” he said.

“The surgery wasn’t the worst part. It was the recovery. I was lost and afraid that I’d lose my creativity. I dealt with it by reading about films, watching tutorials and even listening to podcasts,” he said. 

Lee is healing but have to go for constant check-ups to ensure that the cancer does not come back. 

“Being Malaysians, we don’t go for physical check-ups. Start going for it. Get insurance. As annoying as insurance agents can be, having it really helps especially when something like this happens. You don’t want money to be one of the concerns during times like this,” he said. 

Males aged 15 and above are encouraged to conduct self-examinations from time to time to ensure early detection and treatment. 

How to do it? Here’s a simple infographic that can help:

To help you guys out, here are some of the symptoms of testicular cancer:
  • Painless lump the size of a pea or bigger on either testicle 
  • Pain in the testicle or scrotum. 
  • Change in the size and feel of the testicles. 
  • Frequent aches of the lower abdomen or groin. 

The treatment options are varied and depend on the type of cancer. Consult a doctor if you find any abnormalities and be extra vigilant if your family has a history of testicular cancer. 

Mental health and suicide

Help is just a call way.
Globally, three out of four suicide victims are men, according to the Movember Foundation website. This is despite the number of women attempting suicide being higher. There are no conclusive research to indicate why this is so, and as such targeted assistance is almost non-existent. 

The website also shows that more than 500,000 men die by suicide every year. This number is worrying considering that World Health Organisation’s estimate of people dying of suicide is 800,000 annually. 

There seem to be a discrepancy in the estimate of numbers, which is unsurprising considering that most countries do not have well-documented data when it comes to mental health issues and suicide. The fact remains that despite higher cases of women seeking help for mental health issues and suicide ideation, there are more deaths among men. 

In Malaysia, National Health and Morbidity Survey 2015 indicates a worrying increase in the number of Malaysians suffering from mental health issues. 

It is estimated that 4.2 million Malaysians over the age of 16 suffer from mental health issues, and this number is expected to double by 2020. In fact, mental health is expected to be the second biggest health issue by then. 

Other statistics does not paint any prettier picture, so what should you do if you’re going through a hard time or suffering from mental health issues? Here are some suggestions:
  • Accept that you do not have to suffer alone and ‘tough it out’. 
  • Self-check - if you’re feeling more irritable than usual, feel hopeless or useless, turn to alcohol or illegal substances to deal with problems and other negative behaviour, get help.
  • Talk to someone. Be it a friend, family or a professional.
  • Call Befrienders at 603-79568145 if you do not know whom to call. 
While the Movember Movement has created more awareness on men’s health issues, there’s still a long way to go. If you wish to make a donation or participate in next year’s campaign, you can visit the official Movember Movement website for more information.

If you’re looking at going local and wish to contribute your time or money to local organisations that are fighting to help patients with cancer and mental health problems, you can contact National Cancer Society Malaysia by clicking here and Befrienders Malaysia via their website.

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