November 1, 2023

Movember at 20: Beyond the Mustache

Movember at 20: Beyond the Mustache

What started out as a friendly dare in a Melbourne pub 20 years ago has morphed into one of the most successful fundraising organizations for men’s health. Since its inception in 2003, Movember  has raised more than $1 billion globally for more than 1,250 men’s health projects that focus on prostate and testicular cancer research, mental health, and suicide prevention. The annual month-long mustache-growing campaign has a whimsical reputation, but Movember’s accomplishments are nothing to laugh at. Its efforts have unequivocally advanced the awareness, screening, and treatment of prostate cancer.

In 2003, before hipster irony co-opted it, the mustache had drooped in popularity. This is exactly why four mates in Australia decided to enlist their friends in a growing competition for the month of “Movember” (November)– “mo” is slang for mustache in Australia. Thirty men participated, and word got around.

The following year, the founders decided to use the event to raise money and awareness for men’s health. With a whopping 480 participants in only its second year, they raised AUD 54,000 for the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia. At the time, it was the largest single donation the foundation had ever received.

Movember Momentum

The movement gathered increasing momentum and quickly expanded its reach. By 2007, Canada, Spain, the UK, the USA, and New Zealand had joined, and the Prostate Cancer Foundation became the US’s health partner. A couple years later, through Movember funding, the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center made a significant research breakthrough identifying that there are 25+ different kinds of prostate cancer.

And the wins kept coming. Movember funding contributed to the world’s first prostate cancer genome mapping project. In Australia, Movember united with the National Breast Cancer Foundation to look into genetic similarities between prostate, breast and ovarian cancers and advance treatment methods. In 2019, the FDA granted approval to two drugs, both supported by Movember-funded research, to treat advanced prostate cancer. Movember has collaborated with Prostate Cancer UK to bring together researchers from hospitals and research institutions across 19 countries as part of its Global Cancer Real World Evidence Network, which aims to improve survival and quality of life for men living with prostate and testicular cancer.

As of 2021, nearly 7 million individuals–both “mo bros” and “mo sisters”–from 21 countries have participated in Movember.

Funded Projects for Prostate Cancer and More

These Movember-funded projects demonstrate the organization’s breadth and reach:

  • London’s Institute of Cancer Research Movember Centre of Excellence: This center for prostate cancer research brings together leading researchers across different scientific fields to improve outcomes for men with prostate cancer.
  • True North, a resource for men to learn about prostate cancer treatment and related life changes, and its related projects:
    • TrueNTH, an international initiative involving researchers from Canada, the US, Ireland, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand;
    • and the TrueNTH Global Registry (TNGR), a registry for men from 13 countries who have localized and locally advanced prostate cancer.
  • VFR Mental Health Grant Program: This $10.4 million grant fund targets the mental health and well-being of veterans and first responders (VFR), who are at greater risk for both mental illness and suicide ideation compared to the general population. In 2021, in collaboration with The Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride, the program funded 15 projects across Australia, Canada, Germany, Ireland, New Zealand, the UK, and the US.
  • Making Connections: This 16-site US initiative connects men and boys within their communities to promote resilience across generations.
  • COVID-19: In 2020, Movember announced funding for 34 projects to address the mental-health consequences of COVID on men and boys.

Lasting Impact

The mustache-growing men’s health movement has also received attention in several scientific journals, including the Canadian Urological Association Journal, Nature Reviews: Urology, the Scandinavian Journal of Public Health, and the Société Internationale d’Urologie Journal.

In Canada, where the organization has invested more than $107 million in prostate cancer research since 2008, Movember is the largest funder of translational research for new prostate cancer treatment options, and the second largest funder of prostate cancer research projects overall. Movember has funded research on surrogate endpoints that could speed up the clinical trial process for prostate cancer drugs by as much as two years. Movember’s GAP3 database–the world’s largest database on prostate cancer active surveillance–was the foundation for a study of 21,169 active surveillance participants from 27 cohorts to measure the effect of frequent prostate biopsies on erectile and urinary function.

Growing Awareness

Movember has become an effective movement for several reasons. One is that every man who participates becomes a “walking billboard” to raise awareness about men’s health. This “grassroots” ethos also extends to Movember’s active presence on social media platforms. Movember also has had a lot of success with innovative awareness campaigns, which range from serious (such as 2017’s “Unmute” campaign for World Suicide Prevention Day) to humorous (see “How to Grow a Moustache with Nick Offerman”). In addition, the leaders of the Movember Foundation are choosy about which programs they fund, selecting those with the greatest likelihood to have a measurable impact on men’s health.

Let’s be honest–mustaches are great conversation starters. We encourage all men to grab the handlebars and have more conversations about their health, this Movember and all year long.