Movember: Will growing a mustache actually advance prostate cancer research?

It’s that time of year again when women take off their pink ribbons for breast cancer awareness, and men start growing mustaches to bring attention to prostate cancer. Throughout the month of November, men celebrating “Movember’’ are asked to start with a clean-shaven face and allow facial hairs to sprout along their upper lip, culminating in a party.

The point? The 65,000 American men who participated last week asked friends and relatives to sponsor them on their grueling — or perhaps effortless — endeavor and join them in a fund-raising party to raise money for the prostate cancer campaign. I guess this is for types who don’t want to commit to a 10K race.

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Full disclosure: I’m a little skeptical of gimmicky marketing campaigns that raise funds for diseases without a lot of detail as to where the money goes. The Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s pink ribbon campaign has come under fire for partnering with eyebrow-raising companies like Kentucky Fried Chicken and Smith & Wesson handguns that were allowed to sport pink ribbons provided they donated a portion of their profits to the foundation.

But the bigger issue is how much of your direct donation gets spent on actual research to cure the disease?

Komen for the Cure says its spends about 84 percent of its donation dollars on “mission programs and services.’’ That means 16 cents for every dollar you donate is used for administrative costs or fund-raising activities. Only about 30 cents of that dollar gets used for research grants, while the rest goes toward education, treatment, and screening for breast cancer.

With the Movember campaign, the fund dispersion gets a little murkier. The campaign’s website says that 83 percent of donated funds go to “men’s health programs,’’ while the rest is used for administrative costs, fund-raising, or retained for use in future campaigns.

When I looked a little more closely at the programs funded by this group, I noticed they were donating about 70 percent of their funds to the Prostate Cancer Foundation and Livestrong — both of which take their own cuts for administrative costs. The rest goes to fund their awareness and education programs., though it’s not exactly clear what they do from reading the details on the website.

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Movember spokesperson Tracy Coulter didn’t seem to know a lot of the details either — she initially told me in an interview that no donations were used for these internal programs — but said the programs were trying to raise awareness for prostate cancer and aid researchers in developing a better screening test.

Do I personally think men should grow mustaches for Movember? Sure, if it’s fun for them and gets them to make an appointment with their doctor to deal with any health problems. But do I think donating dollars to the group running this will do much to advance men’s health? I have my doubts.

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