What began as an awareness campaign—men sporting mustaches in November in support of men's health—now has spurred one of the largest investments in improving the quality of life for men with prostate cancer.
Rick Bangs didn’t need an awareness month to be aware of his risk of prostate cancer. After his father was diagnosed, the Detroit native wondered if he would eventually also develop prostate cancer. Ironically it was a diagnosis of early-stage bladder cancer in 2006, and the subsequent surgery, that revealed the malignancy at age 48.
“Like many men after prostatectomy, I would have benefited from more information and more support in two major areas: sexual function and incontinence,” says Bangs, who now volunteers as a patient advocate with two large American cancer research groups. “I sought information on what to expect, when to expect it, and what was “normal” for the days and months after surgery. Yet even I was not fully prepared for what happened, as the available information was inadequate.”
To help generate more conversation and support for other men, Bangs is working with the Movember Foundation, an organization established in 2006 to raise awareness about, and funding for, men’s health issues, including prostate and testicular cancers. He’s hoping that his efforts, along with those of men around the world who have participated in “Movember,” are about to pay off in a big way.
What began as an awareness campaign—men sporting mustaches in November in support of men’s health—now has spurred one of the largest investments in improving the quality of life for men with prostate cancer.
This year, the Movember Foundation announced a grant of $36 million to develop True NTH (pronounced “True North”), a resource to help men with prostate cancer overcome the challenges associated with the disease, including side effects and quality-of-life issues. Five different countries will be investing in the program with funds generated by the Foundation’s campaigns over the past three years. In the United States alone, more than $10 million will be used to develop individualized programs for men diagnosed with the disease.
“True NTH is actually a nautical term; it’s a compass point,” says Mark Hedstrom, Movember Foundation’s U.S. director. “It’s an idea that if we can understand the individual patients’ needs when they are first diagnosed, we can help them navigate toward the ultimate outcome they want to see.”
In the past few years, advancements in treating prostate cancer have surged, primarily due to research in immunology, chemotherapy and androgen-deprivation therapy. You can also add to that the growth of radiation techniques and minimally invasive surgery, but side effects, along with the potential for overtreatment, remain an issue.
Those quality-of-life issues, including sexual dysfunction, fatigue, depression, anxiety and incontinence, are sometimes not assessed by the physician or disclosed by the patient, leading to additional distress. And because studies have showed that these quality-of-life issues also affect the spouse, True NTH programs will not only support the patient, but also extend to his family.
The three-year pilot program includes collaboration among advocates, researchers and physicians to develop ways to better assist patients in making treatment decisions, recovering from therapy, and improving quality of life in survivorship. In the United States, the Prostate Cancer Foundation will be working closely with the Movember Foundation. True NTH programs will then be evaluated in each country and rolled out both nationally and internationally.
Part of Movember’s funding will also go toward research to develop new ways to identify aggressive prostate cancers, better imaging tests, guidelines for watchful waiting of low-risk cancers, as well as understanding the role of exercise in improving quality of life and survival for patients with metastatic prostate cancer.
Bangs is confident that the True NTH program will help provide guidance to new survivors, whether through an online support community, trained coach or other service. “I am particularly excited to see True NTH fill the vacuum of sexual-function tools and information. This alone will be a game changer,” he predicts.