Two months ago, it was Movember; now it’s now Manuary, and Saskatoon Health Region staff are helping to raise funds in support of research and clinical care for head and neck cancer patients.

Originating  in London, Ontario, in 2011, Manuary expanded to Edmonton in 2012, and Halifax for 2014. The idea for a Saskatoon chapter was brought to Saskatoon Health Region by Dr. Rick Jaggi, ENT (Ear, Nose and Throat) Surgeon.

A woman sports a digital beard in a photo.

Women can also participate in Manuary by having a virtual beard Photoshopped onto their picture, like Bobbi Oldridge has done above.

“Our staff, medical residents, patients and members of the community will be sporting beards for the month of January in an effort to help find a cure for head and neck cancer,” explained Bobbi Oldridge, a Speech-Language Pathologist with Saskatoon Health Region, and a member of the Manuary committee in Saskatoon.

Members of the local Manuary committee include ENT surgeons, dietitians, speech-language pathologists, head and neck cancer patients and community members participating by growing beards.

The Saskatoon group is aiming to raise $25,000 to support Saskatoon Health Region’s head and neck cancer program.

A man is shaved in a barbershop.

Dr. Anil Sharma, ENT surgeon, receives his shave at the Manuary opening event at Tommy Gun’s Original Barbershop in Saskatoon on January 3.

Why “Manuary”?

Men are four times more likely than women to be affected by head and neck cancer, which is the sixth most common cancer in North America. In addition, this disease is rapidly becoming more common in young men due to newly discovered associations with human papillomavirus (HPV).

Why is this such an important cause?

Head and neck cancer is a devastating disease that affects some of the most personal aspects of life, including facial appearance, as well as the ability to speak and eat.

The primary cause of most head and neck cancers is smoking. In 2012, approximately 5,350 new cases of head and neck cancer – specifically oral cancer, thyroid and esophageal cancer – presented in Canadian men. Head and neck cancers, as well as their treatment, can have a profound negative impact on patient quality of life, as facial appearance, voice, breathing, and swallowing can all be compromised. Survival with contemporary treatment consisting of a combination of radiation, surgery and/or chemotherapy can be successful; however, up to 50 per cent of patients with advanced cancers unfortunately succumb to disease.

While the number of people affected by head and neck cancers has decreased with the societal decrease in smoking, a subset of cases affecting the oropharynx (tonsils and back of tongue) is on the rise. A large number of these oropharyngeal cancers are appearing in younger patients, in their 30s to 50s, and 80 per cent of these cancers carry the Human papilomavirus (HPV) virus.

There remains a lot of room for improvement in how we treat head and neck cancer. The growth in oropharyngeal cancer is one that is theoretically preventable with the use of the HPV vaccine. While it is important that we vaccinate teenage girls for cervical cancer with the HPV vaccine, there is discussion regarding whether boys and men should also be getting this vaccine as it is the same virus that causes both cervical cancer and this subset of head and neck cancers.

As a leading cause of death and disability, Head Neck Squamous Cell Carcinoma (HNSCC) is putting a strain on our health care systems and impoverishing individuals, families and society. Fortunately, the vast majority of HNSCC can be prevented or cured if detected early. Unfortunately, the majority of cases present at an advanced stage, something that could be prevented with increased awareness. Many of Canadians are suffering from delayed diagnosis of head and neck cancer, inadequate treatment, inappropriate rehabilitation and palliation.

Manuary is dedicated to raising funds to supporting cutting edge research and improving clinical care for patients suffering with head and neck cancer. The ultimate goal is improve cure rates and quality of life for patients suffering with this disease.

All the funds raised will stay in Saskatchewan, going towards improving the lives of head and neck cancer patients through research and quality improvement programs.

How does Manuary work?

Participants can sign up individually or as a team at http://www.Manuary.ca, and encourage their friends, family and community to sponsor their beard growth via online donations. Women are also encouraged to participate by submitting a photo to the Manuary website. The site will “beard” their photo with some creative Photoshopping, so that women can gather donations as well.

To kick off Manuary in Saskatoon, friends, family and community members had a “Shave-Off” hosted by Tommy Gun’s Original Barbershop on January 3.

Throughout January, the local committee will post pictures of developing beards, and more photos of photoshopped ones as they collect pledges.

A man is shaved in a barbershop.

Dr. Rick Jaggi, ENT surgeon seen above receiving his kick-off shave, is currently leading the way with donations to the Saskatoon Manuary event with over $1,400 raised as of January 14.

Manuary will culminate with a “Facial Hair Face-Off” at 7 p.m. on January 31 at Village Guitar and Amp on 20th Street West.  The participant who raises the most funds, as well as the participant sporting the most creative facial hair will receive prizes, and the Head and Neck Cancer team will announce the total amount raised. In addition, those who raise over $500 will receive a BeardHead hat.

All members of the community are invited to come to the closing event and enjoy live music, door prizes and support the cause.

More information can be found at www.manuary.ca. To sponsor the Saskatoon team, visit here.