Men need to be aware of the risk of prostate cancer, former All Blacks doctor John Mayhew says.

Research released today showed one in five men aged over 50 had never been checked for prostate cancer, and the same number did not know where their prostate gland was located.

The research was commissioned by men's health charity Movember, who annually run a moustache-growing event in November to raise awareness of men's health issues, including prostate cancer and depression.

Dr Mayhew said early detection of prostate cancer had a highly successful treatment rate.

Each year, around 3000 men were diagnosed with the disease and around 600 died.

Prostate cancer was the second largest cause of male cancer deaths, after lung cancer.

Dr Mayhew says men give all sorts of reasons for not being checked, including being too busy and not knowing enough about their prostate.

He says a lot are also preoccupied with the prospect of a rectal examination.

The research also shows one in five men do not know where on their body the prostate gland is.

"Men don't seem to realise that a little bit of knowledge could potentially save their lives," Dr Mayhew said.

"They really need to recognise what is normal for their body and discuss any changes with their GP."