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Could growing a mustache up top help educate men about cancer down there?
That's the theory of an international public health campaign that's landed in Utah.
Called Movember, it has enlisted an estimated 1 million men around the world to sport facial hair this month. The Mo Bros, as they're called, act as ambassadors. As their friends, co-workers or strangers ask about what they're growing on their face, they can say they're cultivating a 'stache to raise awareness about men's health issues, in particular prostate and testicular cancer.
They also raise money $126 million worldwide last year to give to groups, including the Prostate Cancer Foundation and the Livestrong Foundation.
While the conversations may start in jest, those "billboards under our noses initiate really important ones," said Jason Hincks, chief operating officer of Movember.
"Guys aren't good at engaging with their health," he added. "They have to be pushed along to get their annual health checks."
Alan Weeks, 63, didn't have to do much prodding to get his co-workers to sign up for a 'stache. The e-commerce director at Larry H. Miller Toyota in Murray was brainstorming ways the dealership could get involved in a community project to raise awareness of social or health issues when a colleague from Seattle mentioned Movember.
Weeks looked up the website, registered and signed up 32 co-workers the next day.
Some grumbled because they already had mustaches or beards and had to shave them to start the month. But Weeks reminded them, "You might literally save somebody's life."
Movember didn't start so seriously. It began in Australia, where a group of men decided over drinks and reminiscing about the 1970s to grow mustaches. They did it in November because it was one of the 30 men's birthdays that month.
They noticed their changing appearances generated a lot of buzz and decided they should turn it into something more than fun, Hincks said. The next year 450 people joined and raised $45,000 (U.S.), which was donated to a prostate cancer foundation.
The campaign crossed the shores in 2007, and today people in 21 countries have officially signed up.
Hincks said the campaign is inspired by breast cancer awareness activities, with their ubiquitous pink ribbons and fundraising efforts that have hammered home the importance of early testing and detection.
Nothing like that exists for men, who have a shorter life expectancy than women by an average of five years. One in six men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in his lifetime and 28,000 men are projected to die of the disease this year, according to the Movember website.
Prostate cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer death for men in the U.S. and Utah.
According to the Utah Department of Health, all men over age 40 should visit their doctor for a routine health visit, which should include a conversation about prostate cancer screening.
Compared to the U.S., Utah has a slightly lower percentage of men over age 40 who have ever been screened, at almost 60 percent compared to 62 percent. Utah men are also more likely to develop the cancer than men elsewhere. An average of 190 Utah men died each year of prostate cancer from 2005 to 2009, according to health department data.
"All of us guys talk about politics, continually talk about sports or work. Hardly ever, almost never, do we talk about health issues," Weeks said.
He said regular customers have asked about the stubble, but the employees are initiating conversations more often than they're being asked. Weeks said it has led him to call his doctor for a check-up. And he encourages the men he talks with to get a physical and a prostate exam.
"It's a big deal for us to be doing something other than helping people buy an automobile," he said.
Learn more about Movember
Meet more Mo Bros and learn more about the movement at http://us.movember.com.