This November, you can also help “change the face” of men’s health. I’m participating in No-Shave November this year, not just by writing about the unique health issues of men, but by growing a beard for the first time ever. (Yep, that’s part of my face in the main photo!)

Last week, I wrote about the rising suicide rates among men. This week is about cancer in general with more detail next week about two specific cancers unique to men.

So Why This Year?

I heard about the tradition of growing facial hair in November for men’s health issues, which follows October’s women’s health month. 

However, I never participated until it became more personal for me this year in several ways.

First, as a recent retiree, I recently read that on average, men worldwide die 7 years sooner than women.

Also, I also read about the rise in anxiety and suicide during COVID-time, which was especially high among older men.

Then, I was reminded of a guy in our men’s group who committed suicide a few years back. Another good friend recently struggled with dark thoughts from some prescribed anxiety medications, as I wrote in Join Me for Men’s Mental Health Month,

Lastly, cancer has touched my family and some friends as well. My own father has survived both colon and prostate cancer. I also have a good friend with prostate cancer that’s in remission. Our church currently has a member undergoing serious chemo treatments and I know two men who lost spouses to cancer in the last year.

So I decided this was a great year to participate in the movement!

Mustache or Beard?

In my initial research, I found that growing facial hair for a cause began back in 2003 when two guys in Australia started a movement they called “Movember“. Inspired by a friend’s mother who was fundraising for breast cancer, they encouraged friends to pay $10 to grow mustaches to raise awareness of men’s health and prostate cancer. 

Then in 2009, a Chicagoland family started the No-Shave November organization after 8 siblings lost their father to colon cancer. Instead of being “all about the mustache”, they ask male participants to grow-out beards and encourage women to skip shaving their legs. They suggest donations in the amount spent on grooming in the month. 

So this year, I am supporting No-Shave November because it’s a Chicago-based foundation.

Plus, I also wanted to grow a full beard and not just a mustache!

Facial Hair was Greek to Me

I found further reading about the history of facial hair that said the concept of not shaving for a cause stretches way back to the ancient Greeks. 

By Raphael – Web Gallery of Art: Public Domain

Of course, a month named November did not exist back when Plato asserted that the guardians of the time needed to spend time each year imitating the look of the gods. The basic idea was that young men had to imitate their leaders, who were all bearded, so they set aside a period of 30 days for these young guardians of Athens to accomplish the growing of facial hair.

Apparently, Aristotle agreed with Plato, because he later wrote in his Nichomachean Ethics, “…no man can be trusted if he is without a beard.  For that reason, beard growth training is as important as proper training in ethics.” 

More Historical Context

According to Beardpilot, scientists even believe that prehistoric men grew long beards for three specific reasons.

First, a beard provided warmth from the elements and a natural shield for the more delicate parts of the face around the mouth and lips.

Next, prehistoric men grew their beards for protection.  Their thick, rich beards helped cushion blows to the face during fights.

Thirdly, prehistoric men wore beards as a sign of intimidation. Like the mane of the majestic Lion, the beard created a manlier, more testosterone-infused look, with the appearance of a stronger-looking jawline. 

Fast-forward into history a little bit further to find a more modern explanation for a beard-growing month.

Karl Heinrich Marx
(1818-1883)

German philosopher and socialist revolutionary, Karl Marx (1818-1883) felt one of the easiest ways to upset the social order of his time was to let facial hair grow. Marx knew that the capitalist factory owners wouldn’t allow their workers to have facial hair due to the danger of being scalped or injured by the industrial machines. So he encouraged workers to grow out beards presumably to “stick it to the man.” Marx’s attempt at a rebellion failed miserably and the practice faded away.

Coincidently, my father-in-law once grew a beard to avoid having to work in an area that contained asbestos. Heck, even the New York Yankees have a policy against facial hair!

Regardless of the origin or purpose of growing facial hair, these two main organizations: Movember and No-Shave November continue to raise millions of dollars for the prevention of cancer. 

Origins of Cancer

According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), human beings and animals have had cancer from the dawn of written history. 

The oldest description of cancer (although the word cancer was not used) was discovered in Egypt back about 3000 BC. Some of the earliest evidence of cancer is found in fossilized bone tumors and human mummies in ancient Egypt. One ancient Egyptian textbook, the Edwin Smith Papyrus, describes 8 cases of tumors removed by cauterization with the writing, “There is no treatment.”

Credit for the origin of the word “cancer” is given to the Greek physician Hippocrates (460-370 BC); long is considered the “Father of Medicine.”

Hippocrates used the terms carcinos and carcinoma to describe non-ulcer forming and ulcer-forming tumors. In Greek, these words most likely described a disease with finger-like spreading projections that called to mind the shape of a crab.

The Roman physician, Celsus (28-50 BC), later translated the Greek term into cancer, the Latin word for crab. Galen (130-200 AD), another Greek physician, used the word “oncos” (Greek for swelling) to describe tumors. Although the crab analogy of Hippocrates and Celsus is still used to describe malignant tumors, Galen’s term is now used as a part of the name for cancer specialists – oncologists.

Cancer Death Is Higher for Men

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cancer is the second-leading cause of death in the United States behind heart disease.

The CDC shows that the number of new cancer cases has increased to about 1.9 million per year in 2020, although that rate is remaining relatively flat. Fortunately, the number of deaths from cancer is decreasing from about 171 per 100,000 people in 2010 to 151 per 100,000 people in 2020.

Statistically, men have higher rates of dying from cancer than women. The American Cancer Society (ACS) estimated that more than 321,000 men died from the disease in 2019, compared to just over 285,000 women. 

The cancers that affect men develop in the male reproductive system, which includes the prostate, testicles, and penis. We also get colorectal, lung, urinary tract, and skin cancers.

Thankfully, millions of dollars and tons of research help teach us what to do to prevent cancer and that finding the disease early saves lives.

Why Do Men Die of Cancer Sooner?

Simply put, men don’t like to go to the doctor!

A 2019 Cleveland Clinic survey confirms widespread physician-dodging among men. It stated only half of the adult men said they get regular checkups and 72% would rather do household chores than go see their doctor.

Dr. Bradley Gill, a urologist at the Cleveland Clinic surmises that many guys do not see a physician until their 30s or 40s for routine screening unless something serious is going on with their health.

This contrasts women, who are plugged into the health care system from an early age, seeing gynecologists and getting in the habit of annual visits.

Gill advises men to get a routine check-up every other year in their 30s, and then every year starting in their 40s. Generally, older men are better about getting annual physicals, compared with 43 percent of those ages 35 to 54.

What’s Next?

As I suggested in my first post this month, you can help by also growing some facial hair, by donating at my No-Shave November page, or by calling a friend to check in on them. 

At a minimum, please keep reading this series as I detail some cancers specific to men and what we can do to help prevent them. (Don’t worry, I will not use any pictures of my male body parts!)

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