You might be seeing some men rocking a more fuller face of hair in recent weeks and wondering what is going on?! Aptly named Movember, it’s heartening to see people come together to raise awareness and money for men’s health issues.

As a GP, I always find it interesting how different genders from different age groups and backgrounds, present to see their doctor. There are definitely stereotypical trends when it comes to certain ailments where men especially, find it more difficult to come and speak to their GP about anything “too personal.”

For generations, young boys have always been taught to be resilient, strong and to just “man up” in difficult situations. It’s done a huge disservice as it’s taught men that they should not feel vulnerable at any stage in life, they should stay quiet and just get on with it. Isn’t this so sad? I appreciate there will be some reading this thinking otherwise but as a daughter, mother, wife and doctor who treats countless men with all sorts of medical problems, I believe we need to change the status quo.

Men’s healthcare needs are diverse and complex. The areas most critical that Movember highlights are those that men struggle most with when it comes to seeking help. Importantly these are also the issues that if not caught early, can cause severe illness and even premature death.

Understand your prostate

Know the signs and get help without shame or embarrassment! The prostate is a small gland in the pelvis and it's located between the penis and the bladder, surrounding the tube through which urine travels out called the urethra. The prostate produces thick white fluid that makes semen when it’s mixed with sperm produced by the testicles. As men get older, the prostate natural gets bigger and therefore can start to put pressure on the bladder, causing symptoms such as difficulty starting to pee, peeing more frequently or having some difficulty fully emptying the bladder. Some men may need to pass urine during the night and others may experience some issues with sexual function. If you’re having these symptoms, you are not alone and talking to your GP is the absolute right thing to do. An enlarged prostate isn’t necessarily anything to worry about and there are medications we can easily prescribe to help relieve these symptoms but far too often men struggle in silence because they’re too embarrassed. Whilst we don’t exactly know why prostate cancer happens, it is a common cancer affecting men - black men are most commonly affected. Family history can also be a risk factor as well as obesity and ageing. If you experience any change in your urinary symptoms that is persistent, we need to see you. At the appointment the doctor will usually take a history of the symptoms, do a blood test looking for a hormone called the PSH, test a urine sample as well as do a digital recital examination. This takes only a few seconds and is painless but vital to exclude prostate cancer as a possibility. The earlier we can catch the change, the better the outcome.

It’s good to feel your testicles

Although rare, testicular cancer affects around 2,300 men in the UK every year. It typically affects those aged between 15-49 but the good news about this type of cancer is that it is one of the most treatable cancers. Early detection and presentation to the doctor therefore is life saving. Again, we don’t fully understand the mechanism but it is more common in men with undescended testicles and family history. Much like the advice I previously gave out for breast cancer, I would encourage anyone with testicles to make it a monthly habit to have a good feel of their testicles looking for any  swelling or lumps or any changes in shape or texture of their testicles. Also if you become aware of any unusual testicular sensations, any sudden change in size or firmness - don’t ignore it! It’s nothing to feel embarrassed about and remember you can always request for a male GP if you feel that would be easier. If the GP receptionist asks for the reason for the call during triaging, just say it’s “personal” which is always code to us for “intimate.”

Your mind matters no matter what your gender.

Last but definitely not the least, we want to hear from you if your mind feels in pain. Men are 3 times more likely than women to die by suicide. They are less likely to seek help and often struggle in silence and fear that opening up would make them seem weak. Mental health doesn’t discriminate and especially over this pandemic, we have seen an increase in mental health cases across all ages, cultures and genders. Times are tough right now for many but help is available. If you feel or know of anyone who is struggling with their mental health then speak to the GP. Whatever you discuss stays in the consultation room; confidentially is paramount. I tend to find that middle aged/older men are usually the most fearful of seeking GP support, as are men from ethnic backgrounds. We need to change this. From talking therapies to medication or even some time off work, never shy from asking for help.

There are several medical conditions where men consult their GP less often than women. Whether it’s mental health, bowels, water works, sexual dysfunction, weight management, skin problems or breast issues, anything at all - call your GP and get booked in.