Why grow a mo’ to help a bro?

As we come to the end of November, it also means the end of the month of fundraising for men’s health, known as Movember. While we’re sure some of our readers may be very familiar with this yearly event and what its goals are, as part of our own Movember campaign which started with fancy moustache selfies and culminated in an epic bake sale, this piece is for those who want to know a little bit more about why we grow or don moustaches in the quest for improving awareness and cash flow to important men’s health projects. Movember is a worldwide annual fundraising event aimed at fighting three of the biggest health issues faced by men: prostate cancer (the cause that started Maxwell Plus in the first place!), testicular cancer and mental health in general. It does this by funding global and country-specific initiatives to raise awareness, educate and change behaviours.

A whole month just for men’s health? Definitely! That stereotype about how blokes don’t worry about their health and need a bit of prodding to get things checked out isn’t completely separate from the truth. From research by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, guys do have a higher incidence of many conditions and their attitudes to health are certainly different as well. Even those who are aware of these points may still be shocked by the actual numbers. Numbers including the 5 year shorter lifespan for men due to lack of preventative care. Like the 20% of deaths for men aged 25–44 attributable to suicide, higher than both cancer related deaths and those involving cars and motorbikes. And as men get older, that number switches to cancer related deaths which claim the lives of 42% of men between the ages of 45–64 and a third for those over 65. That’s why we all need to band together for Movember to make an impact on lowering these statistics for all the men in our lives. And for the team at Maxwell Plus, that impact starts with prostate cancer — finding it earlier to stop men dying young and diagnosing it more accurately so those who need treatment get it at the right time.

Prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in Australian men. Early detection is key. In Australia, the Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) test is the primary testing method. Its use is controversial because it is not a unique indicator of prostate cancer and may result in false positives. In addition to mental health issues, false positive PSA tests may also prompt overtreatment: treating prostate cancer that does not progress or treating a patient likely to die because of other causes, including old age. Follow up tests and treatment also come with potential physical harms such as urinary incontinence, erectile dysfunction, weight gain, cardiovascular events and in rare cases death. Patients diagnosed with low-risk prostate cancer may avoid unnecessary treatment using active surveillance. While that may limit the risk of physical harm, living with uncertainty may still have a serious impact on the patient’s mental health as well as on his partner and family.

Fortunately, there are a number of organisations working to improve the lives of these men across all stages of the prostate cancer journey. There are those who are focusing on increasing awareness of guidelines and information around prostate cancer and enabling early targeted testing to improve early detection as well as other looking at enhancing the clinical workflow for prostate cancer diagnosis and performing cutting edge research to make treatment more personalised and less detrimental. To highlight a few doing great work in this space, let’s first take a look at the Prostate Cancer Foundation Australia. This is the peak national body for prostate cancer in Australia and they contribute a lot to awareness raising through events and informative blogs as well as to research aimed at facilitating initiatives that reduce the impact of prostate cancer on Australian men, their partners and families. To date, they have funded over 6 years worth of research across novel treatments in radio- and immuno-therapy as well as methods for improving the effectiveness of the PSA test and improving outcomes for those with aggressive and metastatic prostate cancer. Not to mention, those in need of support are also taken care of by PCFA with access to a range of support groups to help them through their cancer journey.

Our next group, Prostate Screen Australia, has their focus squarely at the start of the process — looking at prostate cancer ‘screening’. In this case however, screening involves targeted testing of those in an already high risk category — men over the age of 50. Built on a foundation of decades of experience in prostate cancer diagnosis and a frustration at the lack of awareness and early detection from available methods such as the Prostate Specific Antigen test, Prostate Screen Australia was launched. Their focus is not just on catching men with prostate cancer much earlier, but also on helping them understand the risks associated with PSA testing, gain knowledge about prostate cancer itself and what to expect from the targeted screening and diagnosis pathway.

For those who progress from early testing to the next stage in the prostate cancer journey, of course, we can’t go past a mention of the work we at Maxwell Plus are doing as part of our vision to diagnose non-communicable disease, including prostate cancer, more accurately and before it can cause a problem. We do this by using world-class AI to analyse data alongside a collaborative care team delivering the best information to form a patient’s personalized care path always putting the patient first. It’s no secret that although multi-parametric MRI for prostate lesion detection is becoming more commonplace in the diagnosis pathway, the imaging itself is notoriously difficult to read and that is where Maxwell Plus comes in. Helping to better identify and risk stratify (a fancy term for identifying if a lesion is clinically significant cancer requiring intervention or not) lesions from images to give urologists and radiologists insights to support their clinical decision making. And we don’t stop at diagnosis either! Working with clinicians to develop a state of the art prostate cancer risk calculator also helps urologists and general practitioners identify those at risk with greater accuracy so those that really need follow up tests actually get them and those that don’t won’t have to go through unnecessary testing.

Next up in the line of awesome contributors to improving prostate cancer patient outcomes is the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in Victoria. Although their research program is relatively new, they’re already making headway into topics such as identifying which tumours are aggressive or indolent and which features predict tumor progression as well as treatments that can prolong and improve patient survival. The benefits from this line of research mean that slow growing tumors whose intervention can cause more harm than good will be distinguishable from those which need immediate treatment, so patients in both categories will have better outcomes.

In a similar vein, the Garvan Institute of Medical Research is another organisation trailblazing the way to personalised and more effective prostate cancer treatment. For example, given that 50% of men with prostate cancer do not respond to treatment with the most common chemotherapy drug, the Garvan is pioneering research into early identification of this group so they can avoid unnecessary treatment down the line. Additionally, they are investigating methods of detecting whether a cancer is benign or aggressive in order to support appropriate treatment decisions, hopefully resulting in reduced anxiety and decrease the amount of unnecessary treatment and associated side effects. Another key focus area of great importance is their research into why African ancestry carries a much higher prostate cancer risk and lethality than for other groups, in particular claiming the lives of 4 in 10 South Africans with the disease compared to 1 in 10 for European men. This project has already identified key genetic influences and is now being rolled out across multiple countries and is greatly expanding our knowledge of the role that genetics has to play in prostate cancer development and aggressiveness.

So with all this exciting innovation and research going on in our own backyard, the 1 in 7 Australian men who will be diagnosed with prostate cancer can at least have some peace of mind that they are in very good hands. The gold-standard future might not be so far away, where prostate cancer is detected as early as possible and less invasive, more personalised treatments are made available. Finally, of course, at this time of the year, remember what Movember stands for, what it hopes to achieve for men everywhere, don a moustache and dig deep. And if you’re looking for a place to start, look no further! We’d certainly appreciate your Movember support right here.