Excluding non-melanoma skin cancers, prostate cancer is the most common cancer among men in Canada. It’s also the third leading cause of death from cancer in men in the country. It’s strange to think, then, that there remains a stigma around this deadly disease, a stigma that prevents men from getting check ups, identifying symptoms and speaking about the health of their prostate.

Taking control of your health

“As men, we are our own worst enemies when it comes to health,” says Rocco Rossi, President and CEO of Prostate Cancer Canada. “We don’t want to talk about health and, when it’s health below the waist, if we aren’t bragging about it, we aren’t talking about it.”

Rossi also believes that the archaic societal perceptions of masculinity are still a prohibitive barrier stopping men from speaking freely about prostate cancer. “Men are taught from a young age to ‘man-up’; that you are not supposed to show pain,” says Rossi. “

Well, we want people to know that manning up is actually taking control of your health and getting tested, so that you stay healthy and are in a position to take care of not only yourself, but your family.”

Damaging misconceptions

With metastatic prostate cancer – cases when the cancer has spread, usually to the lymph nodes and bones – there is a further damaging and tragic stigma; a stigma that costs men their lives. Because it’s the most advanced form of the disease, people often believe, incorrectly, that once prostate cancer has metastasized all hope is lost.

This commonly held misconception, that metastatic prostate cancer is untreatable, stops men from getting tested and needs to be eradicated.

“We want to open the door for men to have conversations about their health and prostate cancer.”

There is also the sad fact that people are uncomfortable and reluctant to talk openly about a disease that could result in the loss of life, a reluctance that can have devastating consequences.

Rossi tells the story of a man who developed prostate cancer and recovered, but felt unable to talk to his children about his experience. Tragically, the man’s son ended up developing metastatic prostate cancer and died. If doctors had known the family history of prostate cancer, the disease could have been picked up much earlier and the patient’s treatment options could have been much more favourable.

The common misconception that metastatic prostate cancer is completely untreatable is further inhibiting men from coming forward and getting tested or discussing symptoms. This damaging belief is also untrue. Although, as Rossi explains, early detection is the best-case scenario, there are treatments available that can effectively prolong life and increase quality of life for men with the advanced form of the disease. “The introduction of new treatments has been a real boon for patients with metastatic prostate cancer,” Rossi says.

Making change through social awareness

Few awareness campaigns have had the impact of Movember, a global men’s health charity and awareness campaign which encourages men to grow a moustache throughout the 30 days of November.

“We want to open the door for men to have conversations about their health and prostate cancer and, because of those moustaches, you see men gathered together, whether it’s at the workplace, at home or at a hockey game,” says Pete Bombaci, Country Director, Movember Canada. “The moustache is a conduit to a conversation about your health and whether you do it with 20 friends or just with your dad across the dinner table, it’s the starting point to some of those important conversations.”

The moustache is a true unifier of men, a visible declaration of support and understanding. Bombaci believes that social awareness campaigns, like growing a mo’, are integral to eradicating stigma and helping men to speak openly and honestly. “Campaigns like ours help to bring the conversation to the forefront,” Bombaci says.

“Raising social awareness helps people to understand that they’re not alone when facing challenges on their journey with prostate cancer.”

Raising awareness is a vital and powerful tool in the fight against prostate cancer. Whether it’s educating men on new treatment options, or highlighting the support structures that are available for men living with the disease, spreading the word and speaking openly about prostate cancer will save lives.