THE BLOG

More to Movember Than the Moustache

29/10/2014 15:56 GMT | Updated 29/12/2014 10:59 GMT

Cue Handlebar, Pencil and Gable. No, not the latest hot and hip TV series; Movember is on its way, and with it a smorgasbord of facial fuzz designed to raise awareness of prostate cancer, a disease that currently affects over 250,000 men in the UK. This simple initiative has done wonders in promoting research and support for these men, with patients being diagnosed earlier and living longer than ever before. However, while a moustache might last a month, the challenges for survivors of the disease last a lifetime.

Fighting cancer doesn't stop after remission. Not only must prostate cancer survivors adapt to post-treatment side-effects such as weight gain, sexual difficulties and depression, there is a wider and more serious trend that survivors are often blind to.

A recent survey of UK men with prostate cancer found that 63% were overweight and 71% inactive. While this in itself may not be shocking (after all in the UK 64% of adults are overweight or obese, which is certainly shocking), it is the effect of this sedentary lifestyle, combined with the particular effects of prostate cancer treatment that can have a major impact on long term well-being and survival.

Widely used treatments such as hormone therapy not only have side effects such as hot flushes, fatigue and anxiety, but also put men at a substantive risk of cardiovascular problems, such as stroke and heart disease. This is because the hormones used for treatment affect how fats in the diets are metabolised and stored.

In the short term, men undergoing this treatment are fighting cancer. In the long term, this treatment can exasperate an already unhealthy lifestyle, leaving men with another potential battle on their hands. However, if acted on early, not only will these men survive cancer, they can go on to improve their post-cancer quality of life immeasurably.

Fortunately, these risks can be mitigated through simple lifestyle changes, and importantly through education. However, it is an unfortunate and well-known fact that a lot of men avoid engaging with healthcare, so getting information to them, and offering support in a way that is attractive to them, is a major challenge.

This is where simple high-street initiatives can make all the difference. True NTH Redi is a new pharmacy-based programme specifically designed to deliver risk assessed and personalised advice, support and motivation to survivors regarding their future exercise, diet and life-style.

It is not simply an information service, but offers practical resources such as free pedometers, stretch bands, DVDs, recipes and personalised action plans to men, with the aim of providing motivation and support for men living life post-prostate cancer. It is modelled on a successful initiative for diabetes management currently used in England.

It seems obvious to us all that healthy eating and regular exercise is a good strategy for a healthy and long life, but a lot of us also understand that life's complexities can sometimes roadblock our best efforts. Add in the trauma of dealing with a potentially life-threatening disease, and it is no wonder that many cancer survivors struggle to adapt to a new lifestyle post-treatment - one that can often include side-effects that last long past the disease itself.

This is why accessing support where it is available is so important. That support can be a call to a friend, joining your partner for a walk in the park or setting goals with the help of a professional.

Whatever the support and methods chosen, the message I want people to take away from this year's Movember is that once you reach for the razor in December, don't forget to reach for other goals too. Old stigmas surrounding diseases such as prostate cancer have, thankfully, been discarded, but it seems there are still wider stigmas when it comes to men accessing support systems.

Hopefully by bringing this support to the high street, these stigmas will in time also be confined to history.

Sara Faithfull, professor of Cancer Nursing Practice, Director of Health Science Innovation and Enterprise at the University of Surrey