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More Than a Mustache: Movember & Men’s Health Awareness

A fertility doctor explores the top three health concerns facing men and what we can do to support all the men in our lives.

November 16th, 2023 | 7 min. read

By Spencer Richlin, MD

During the month of November, you may see some men growing out beards and mustaches in support of "Movember." What exactly is it, and what does the cause raise awareness for?

In this article:

What is Movember?

Movember is one of the leading charities geared towards men’s health, leading the charge in focusing research efforts and raising awareness. November is their designated time to shine a light on men’s health, and the prevention, screening, and treatment of the major issues that impact those who identify as men.

Here are the top men's health issues Movember focuses on:

  1. Prostate cancer
  2. Testicular cancer
  3. Mental health

These are known as the "Big 3" of men’s health, but unfortunately, all of these health concerns frequently go unchecked. Movember's goal is to reduce stigma and increase conversations around these important topics to save lives.

While those who identify as men can of course be affected by other diseases (heart disease, we’re looking at you), these three major issues impact the men in our lives most frequently.

Let's explore why that is - and how to catch any problems early.

#1 Prostate Cancer

Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer in men.

One in nine men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime. When diagnosed early, there is a 98% survival rate. If prostate cancer is detected late, only 26% survive. Like many other cancers, early detection is essential! 

Risk factors to look out for include urinary or sexual function changes. Even if you’re not experiencing these issues, you can speak to your doctor and obtain a PSA (prostate specific antigen) blood test.

This is a very important screening test. Many men have their first PSA drawn at age 40. 

Don't hesitate to ask your doctor about obtaining a PSA test if you have concerns prior to age 40 or want to learn more about preventing or catching prostate cancer.

#2 Testicular Cancer 

Testicular cancer is the most common diagnosed cancer in young men in the United States. The lifetime chance of testicular cancer for men is about 1 in 270.

Since many young men are at risk for testicular cancer, the Movember movement is really geared towards raising awareness that these issues could impact them too.

Similar to breast cancer, self-checks at home can be key to prevention and early detection. The best prevention is monthly palpation of your testicles (as Movember says, know thy nuts).

Seventy percent of men have never even examined their own testicles! Let's run through how to do a simple self-check so you get familiar with what's normal (and what's not).

How to Check Yourself

In the shower, under warm water, do a self-exam.

See if you notice anything different, and be comfortable knowing what your own body feels like. Palpate each testicle between your second and third fingers and thumb to get an understanding of the texture and size of your testicles.

If you notice a mass or lump, a change in size, or experience any pain, contact your doctor ASAP.

Understand Your Risks & Options

The high risk factors for testicular cancer are a family history of testicular cancer and having an undescended testicle. While treatment is effective and the survival rate is good (95%), these treatments can have long-term effects on your future life & fertility.

Treatment options for testicular cancer include surgery and or chemotherapy. As a Reproductive Endocrinologist & Infertility (REI) specialist, my hope is that anyone moving forward with these treatment options have the chance to preserve their fertility before treatment. 

Family Building for Men

Preserving Fertility After a Cancer Diagnosis

Chemotherapy or surgery can affect your future sperm production in a significant way. I want guys in their teens or twenties who might be diagnosed with this cancer to know this: even if you’re not thinking about your future family, this could impact you. Remember, freeze your sperm before treatment.

What does fertility preservation for men look like? Freezing sperm is a safe and effective way to preserve your fertility for years to come. Frozen sperm can be thawed and used in the IVF laboratory safely, even after years of being cryopreserved.

Freezing sperm is a simple process. And thankfully, preparing a couple of samples does not add much time to your treatment timeline.

Finding Support for Men's Health

For those of us who are reproductive endocrinologists and work at a fertility practice, we understand that going through fertility treatment can be a frustrating and a complicated time.

It’s not just about the ladies.

We support all of our patients, no matter who they are or how they identify. There are many specialized resources we offer, such as support groups for men and couples going through fertility struggles, and a vast online database of educational information, including an entire section dedicated to men’s health!

We are here to connect with the partner who isn’t able to be there for every appointment, the one who is struggling with his health, the one who is trying to preserve his fertility before cancer treatment, and the single-dad-to-be who is fighting through this alone.

Whatever your situation, your fertility clinic should support you every step of the way. 

How to Take Action

One of the things we talk about often with our patients who are trying to conceive is making positive lifestyle and nutrition adjustments (i.e. eating healthier, maintaining a healthy weight, reducing alcohol intake, etc).

And those tips are not just for people who identify as women - they are universal.

As a fertility specialist, I suggest each man take these same steps towards being the healthiest person possible before trying to conceive. We even have a free 90-Day Preconception Guide to help support you and your partner (if you have one) prepare for a healthy pregnancy and baby. 

Want to optimize your fertility?

Grab our free 90-Day Preconception Checklist and learn how to prepare physically, financially, and mentally for the road ahead.

Download Now

#3 Men's Mental Health

The Movember movement also works to bring awareness to men’s mental health issues during the month of November (and all year-round). Why? Take a look at these alarming facts:

  • Worldwide, one man dies by suicide every minute of every day
  • Three out of every four deaths by suicide are men 

Knowing these statistics, Movember’s goal is to reduce stigma and prevent male suicide. They do this by encouraging social connections and reducing the stigma around mental health. 

Establishing social networks of friends and family and promoting more open communication with one another can go a long way when it comes to mental health. Whether you prefer in-person get togethers, regular texts, or phone chats, prioritizing connection and open communication in your own life bolsters your emotional wellbeing in a big way.

Note: If you or someone you know is currently in crisis, or struggling with ongoing mental health challenges, you can call or text the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline seven days a week, 24 hours a day. They are even able to connect you with local resources.

Always call 9-1-1 for medical support in emergency situations. 

Additionally, there are now many apps and online counseling services to help you get support from therapists and other mental health professionals - without even leaving your home!

5 Ways to Take Care of Yourself

Connect with Friends & Family

Spend quality time with the people who make you laugh, listen well, and reciprocate your desire to connect. If you live far away from these folks, texts, calls, and video chats are also great ways to stay in touch.

Be Communicative

This means making a consistent effort to have real, authentic conversations and expressing your emotions. Talk about current worries, share life updates, ask for guidance as you work to resolve things that are bothering you. Being open can be tough at first, if you're not used to it,  but the benefits far outweigh any risk of feeling embarrassed or vulnerable.  

Advocate for Screening

Talk to your doctor about how you can detect prostate issues early with simple screenings and tests. 

Nut Knowledge

Check your own testicles regularly, and get to know your nuts! If you notice any changes, call your doctor right away - don't put it off.

Up Your Movement

In a nutshell (pun intended), just move more!

Whether that’s making a point to do one exercise activity per day, walk outside during your lunch break, or park farther away in the parking lot to get those steps in, any movement is good movement! Physical activity is great for the body as well as the mind.

Help Change the Conversation

This month is a great time to do whatever we can to support men and their physical and mental health. For those who aren’t currently in need of support, remember, you can be the support. Reach out to the men in your life and be a friend, a sounding board, a resource.

Through vulnerability, honesty, and connection, we can all help further Movember's cause together. Because what starts out as itchy stubble can grow into an expansive, important conversation that will change lives.

Spencer Richlin, MD

Dr. Spencer Richlin is Surgical Director and Partner in reproductive endocrinology at Illume Fertility. In addition, he is Division Chief of Reproductive Endocrinology at Norwalk Hospital. Dr. Richlin is board certified in both Reproductive Endocrinology and Obstetrics & Gynecology. He joined the team at Illume Fertility in 2004.

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