Move over Movember – problems with the global campaign

Flip over the calender.  October to November.  Breast cancer awareness month morphs into Movember – the global publicity campaign subtitled “Changing the Face of Men’s Health.”

The prominent publicity stunt is to have men grow facial hair to support – well, to support what exactly?

The Movember website points to these “partners and programs we fund” –

Best known of these may be the Livestrong Foundation, from which Lance Armstrong yesterday “severed all formal ties.”

Some news organizations are crossing the line from independent “journalism” into advocacy in support of this campaign.

Where I live, WCCO – the CBS station – has happy faces trying to grow hair in support. The station’s website states:

WCCO-TV has decided to help support the Movember movement to raise awareness of prostate cancer and other cancers affecting men. Several men from the WCCO-TV newsroom have volunteered to grow mustaches this month in support of the cause… Find out how you can help us raise both awareness as well as funds for prostate cancer research.


So members of the “editorial” staff are becoming public fundraisers for this cause?  Hmm.

  • Would they do the same thing for any disease awareness campaign?
  • Would they do the same thing for rare diseases?
  • For any health concern that comes their way?
  • If not, why not?
  • What would be the selection criteria?
  • What due diligence did the station do to verify how the foundation spends the money it raises?

These are just a few of the issues on the slippery slope of journalist endorsement of causes.

Not everyone sees this is an innocuous, harmless, helpful campaign.

UK physician Margaret McCartney blogged, “The problems with Movember.”  She questions some of the evidence behind some of the screening and checkup information/advice promoted by the Movember campaign. Excerpt:

“I urge Movember to pull their health check ups page, use evidence based advice, and concentrate on some of the real unmet health needs of men – what about suicide, alcohol, and car crashes, for example. Not as sexy as proactive (unnecessary and potentially harmful) health checkups – but likely to be of far greater benefit if properly addressed.”

The campaign also leads to media misinformation.  Case in point:  A Huffinton Post piece, “Prostate Cancer Research:  10 Things We’ve Learned So Far This Year.”  Some of the 10 items they posted show no grasp of the evidence, including items on the benefits of PSA testing and on the benefits of green tea.

Google search results show Movember spawning many free prostate cancer screenings, which Dr. Otis Brawley of the American Cancer Society has addressed:

“We’re very concerned about a number of clinics that are offering mass screening where informed decision making – where a man gets told the truth about screening and is allowed without pressure to make a decision – that’s not happening. Many of these free screening things, by the way, are designed more to get patients for hospitals and clinics and doctors than they are to benefit the patients. That’s a huge ethical issue that needs to be addressed.”

Brawley went on to say something that we echo as our own sentiment:

“We’re not against prostate cancer screening. We’re against a man being duped and deceived into getting prostate cancer screening.”

Oftentimes, anyone who raises any questions about evidence, any concerns about the imbalance in broad, generalized health awareness campaigns, faces accusations of being “against” screening, “against” caring for someone’s health, etc.  Let’s put that to rest.  As Brawley suggested, one can raise these questions and simply be FOR more complete, balanced information.

Some health awareness campaigns – while well-intentioned – get lost in their unfocused pursuit of publicity.

Only 17 more days till December.


You might also like


Please note, comments are no longer published through this website. All previously made comments are still archived and available for viewing through select posts.


November 14, 2012 at 6:48 pm

Well, cancer IS one of the world’s biggest killers, so it’s understandable that it gets its own months/campaigns etc. However, this kind of ‘slacktivism’ is getting us no closer to a cure. :/
All the money raised and they still can’t even agree on what is necessary screening/what prevents cancer/how to treat it etc. It’s a joke.
I hate these ‘awareness’ memes. If you’re not ‘aware’ of cancer by now, then you’ve been living under the proverbial rock :/.


November 14, 2012 at 7:42 pm

I think one main issue is that people participate in things without thinking critically. They want to do good, but don’t understand issues like: poor research methodology, TRUE awareness, social issues, marketing. People like to throw money at things and participate in the fun without really knowing what they are doing or know how to measure the impact of the work. It’s not just dollars raised or moustaches grown. In fact, high success in those things isn’t necessarily a good thing.

    Gary Schwitzer

    November 15, 2012 at 10:04 am


    Thanks for your note.

    And I visited your blog and recommend that readers see your post:

    Gary Schwitzer
    Health News Watchdog blog publisher


      December 7, 2012 at 9:16 am

      I was diagnosed with PC on December 23rd 2011. I’m 53 and in good heatlh…well, was…Now I am being told that, based on my Gleason score of 6 and the minimal extent of it all, that I should have a nerve-sparing robotic prostectomy…man! I was not prepared for that news! Nor was I prepared for all the potential risks involved. I’m trying not to be consumed by all this but dont have a good feeling as to where my mental state (and physical state) is heading. I want to make a good decision but am really scared.. I am fortunate to have a partner who loves me but i don’t think he realizes what’s coming either…. Going to another urologist today to see what he thinks are my best options and will try to make that seemingly impossible choice.


November 20, 2012 at 7:22 am

Thank you, Gary.


November 22, 2012 at 12:53 pm

Actually I see Movember acknowledging that cancer screening does have substantial drawbacks; if fact on their website I see acknowledgement of the complexity and individual judgement required. So I don’t see your central criticism as valid.

Furthermore, the use of advocacy organizations has long been the way the world works. Those adequately represented by advocacy get the attention of politicians and industries who provide things for them. Look at all Komen was able to do to get their changes into the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. It is in large part why the act includes special services for women and men have no equivalient services. Women have an advocacy voice and men do not. You may rue that this is our way of life, but the fact remains that those with this type of advocacy voice tend to get what they want. Those who don’t have it get overlooked. So while you may take the high road and refuse to participate because you don’t like the process, you will lose out if you do

    Gary Schwitzer

    November 22, 2012 at 10:58 pm


    Thanks for your note.

    What you claimed was my “central criticism” clearly was not. Mine was on imbalanced, incomplete news coverage/journalistic promotion of Movember. I cited a local TV station and a Huffington Post article. I didn’t write anything about Movember not acknowledging “the complexity and individual judgment required.”

    I also challenge your statement that “the use of advocacy organizations has long been the way the world works.” Whose world? Certainly not the world of journalism, which was what I criticized. And it’s also not the way the world works for informed decision making or for balanced information for consumers. We have written about problems with advocacy organization messages on this site many times.

    Your statements about Komen and the Affordable Care Act are made without any substantiation. “Women have an advocacy voice and men do not” !?! I can’t let that comment be posted without challenging it.

    Please, if you’re going to leave comments on this site in the future, don’t attempt to make spurious claims without providing evidence. I’ll post one such comment, and offer my own in response. But I won’t post another like this one. My comments policy states, in part: “Because I moderate comments, I can’t keep reacting to repeatedly inaccurate or unsubstantiated claims.”