Frequent Cycling and Prostate Risks

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September 5, 2014


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Is there a link between frequent cycling and the risk of developing prostate cancer?

A new study has raised concerns for long-distance male cyclists. Researchers found that cyclists who ride the most—several hours a week — may face a higher risk of prostate cancer. But the study’s results are not conclusive and mostly add fuel to an ongoing debate.

As part of the study, more than 5,000 male cyclists from 2012 to 2013 were surveyed. Just under 1 percent of the men reported being diagnosed with prostate cancer. But those who cycled most—more than 8.5 hours a week — were more likely to have prostate cancer than the other men.

Of the 498 men who cycled the most, 17 (3.5 percent) said they had prostate cancer. Of those who biked the least, three out of 511 (0.5 percent) said they had prostate cancer, the findings showed.

‘Difficult to Interpret’
However, serious cyclists should not be concerned, critics of the study say, because the research involved a relatively small number of participants, and it was based on anonymous online responses. What’s more, the study does not prove there’s an actual connection between cycling and prostrate cancer.

“Since the study was Internet-based, there was no opportunity for interview or physical examination, which limits the ability to explore the reported diagnoses further,” the study itself says.

The lead author of the study, Dr. Milo Hollingworth, a research associate at University College London, acknowledged that the findings are “difficult to interpret.”

“The study shouldn’t alarm men who are serious about cycling and are staying in good overall health,” said Robert Puig, M.D., a urologist and prostate cancer surgeon affiliated with Baptist Hospital of Miami and South Miami Hospital. “But all men should be vigilant about prostate issues, and men over the age of 50, or those experiencing problems from riding, should consult their physician for proper screening and testing.”

The health benefits of frequent cycling, or other regular exercise, include reduced risks for diabetes, heart disease and stroke, and those benefits are much more established than any potential link to prostate cancer, medical experts say.

Some painful conditions associated with frequent cycling are not uncommon, including prostatitis, or chronic irritation of the prostate, which can be painful and uncomfortable. But no study has proven a link between frequent pressure from sitting on a bicycle and prostate cancer. Additionally, bicycle seats or “saddles” can be modified with cushions or re-sized to create less pressure on a man’s groin area.

Other studies have linked excess pressure from bike seats to male infertility and erectile problems. But seat manufacturers have tried to design better seats.

Prostate Screenings for Men Over 50
Cyclists who may be concerned about their prostate health are encouraged to consult with their primary care physician. Men over 50 routinely undergo a prostate examination as part of a general screening. It is advised usually because of a man’s age, or if a problem exists such as difficulty in passing urine.

“No matter what the study says, it’s important to get screened regularly for prostate problems and to know the warning signs of prostate cancer, keeping in mind that there may not be any obvious symptoms early on,” Dr. Puig said.

Prostate cancer may not cause signs or symptoms in its early stages, but when the disease is more advanced it may cause signs and symptoms such as:

  • Trouble urinating.
  • Decreased force in the stream of urine.
  • Blood in the urine.
  • Blood in the semen.
  • General pain in the lower back, hips or thighs.
  • Discomfort in the pelvic area.
  • Bone pain.
  • Erectile dysfunction.
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