So you won’t go blind, but you might get prostate cancer

This one's a myth. You should be worried about your prostate gland instead.
This one's a myth. You should be worried about your prostate gland instead.

Although the schoolyard rumours that masturbation causes blindness or hairy palms aren’t true, a new study published in BJU International has found that too much playing solo in your twenties and thirties can increase the risk of prostate cancer.

The study of more than 800 men found that a high level of sexual activity or masturbation before the onset of middle age was associated with subsequent development of prostate cancer.

The authors suggest that the elevated levels of sex hormones some men experience in their twenties and thirties could be responsible for both a high sex drive and a high risk of prostate cancer later in life.

This British study retrospectively studied the sexual habits of 431 men who had been diagnosed with prostate cancer before the age of 60 and compared their reported behaviour with that of 409 healthy controls.

The authors found that men with prostate cancer were more likely to be very sexually active in their twenties and thirties – that is, had intercourse or masturbated 20 times a month or more – than were controls.  In fact, 40% of the men who had prostate cancer  were categorized as being very sexually active in their twenties compared with 32% of men in the control group. This pattern pretty much persisted throughout the men’s thirties and forties, and the differences in sexual activity evened out in their fifties.

Men with prostate cancer were also more apt to masturbate frequently than were men in the control group, with the greatest difference observed when the men were in their twenties (34% versus 24%) and thirties (41% versus 31%).

“Overall we found a significant association between prostate cancer and sexual activity in a man’s twenties and between masturbation and prostate cancer in the twenties and thirties. However there was no significant association between sexual activity and prostate cancer in a man’s forties”, said lead author Dr Polyxeni Dimitropoulou.

“A possible explanation for the protective effect that men in their fifties appear to receive from overall sexual activity, and particularly masturbation, is that the release of accumulated toxins during sexual activity reduces the risk of developing cancer in the prostate area. This theory has, however, not been firmly established and further research is necessary.”

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men in the UK, accounting for nearly a quarter of all new male cancer diagnoses. Cancer Research UK estimates that one man is diagnosed with prostate cancer every 15 minutes in the UK.

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Dimitropoulou P et al. (2009) Sexual activity and prostate cancer risk in men diagnosed at a younger age. BJU International 103 (2): 178-185 DOI: 10.1111/j.1464-410X.2008.08030.x

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10 Comments

  1. “only 6% of deaths are caused by Prostate Cancer in Australia”

    That’s 6% of male deaths, of course.

  2. Of course, the biggest scandal with Prostate Cancer is that there is so much harm from overtreatment. If you are diagnosed with Prostate Cancer at age 70, you are at least 10 times as likely to die from something else as have your life saved by Prostate removal, and this ratio increases the older you get.

    Academic research such as the above is all very well (it’s academic because no-one in their twenties and thirties is going to care about it) but it’s a pity there isn’t more progress in determining the small minority of Prostate Cancers that are actually dangerous. (Most Western men actually die with Prostate Cancer but only 6% of deaths are caused by Prostate Cancer in Australia.)

  3. Did they ask the men if they thought it was worth it?

    I wondered about this: “A possible explanation for the protective effect that men in their fifties appear to receive from overall sexual activity, and particularly masturbation, is that the release of accumulated toxins during sexual activity reduces the risk of developing cancer in the prostate area.”

    Does this mean women who have heterosexual intercourse are at risk from all the toxins they receive?

  4. The number of cases of prostate cancer in Australia skyrocketed (nearly quadrupled) in the dozen years to 1994 http://www.aihw.gov.au/cancer/index.cfm . Maybe this means that the number of men in Australia who maturbate quadrupled during the 1950s 🙂 But seriously I’m amazed that there has been such a rapid and large increase in the number of cases but no-one has found an explanation for most of the increase. The increase in cases has resumed since 2002 s so it could be described as an epidemic with no known cause.

  5. So I thought I would blog about some controversial to see what happened, and I’ve certainly got a reaction!

    You’ve both made some very good points. Let me just address a few:
    BJU International is a peer reviewed journal, so for starters no 0ne’s being duped by this appearing on a peer reviewed research website.

    The sample size is certainly small, and the fact that this study is retrospective rather than prospective means that the authors can’t unravel causation. I think Devin has hit the nail on the head: “If you have prostate cancer, you are more likely to have had higher ejaculation rates” NOT “If you have a higher ejaculation rates, you increase your risk of cancer”. But then that’s not much of a headline… 😉

    I think the authors would have done much better to follow a group of men in their twenties, record their actual sexual activity (not recalled) and hormone levels, and see who gets cancer. Some multivariate analyses of such data should provide a much clearer idea of the link between ejaculation and prostate cancer.

  6. In addition to the previous comment, I feel I should add that the study appears to have shown that “If you have prostate cancer, you are more likely to have had higher ejaculation rates” NOT “If you have a higher ejaculation rates, you increase your risk of cancer”.

    A far more reasonable explanation is that the differences in hormones cause BOTH an increased sex drive, and an increased risk for prostate cancer. “Higher testosterone (or other hormone) levels lead to an increased sex drive, which leads to more frequent ejaculation. Higher testosterone levels also increase the risk for cancer” is a more plausible explanation given the evidence.

    The conclusion presented by the author of this article is (I’m being diplomatic here) premature and unsupported by the data.

    A proper study to determine any effect of frequency of ejaculation on cancer would have to be structured that you choose a random sample, and enforce the frequency of ejaculation on them, and then observe them later in life to see the frequency of cancer. Impractical, yes, but at least then your conclusion might be supported by evidence.

  7. More wowsers trying to spout ficticious drivel with little or no evidence. Amazingly I found this link through a “peer reviewed research” site.

    Such a small N is a worry, and the findings are not supported by far more thorough studies. This report is not only inaccurate, but dangerous. It appears that this study is somehow skewed to deliver the desired result. Ejaculation will neither make you go blind or give you cancer.

    For real research with much larger sample sizes and more rigourous analysis I suggest the reader look at the Harvard and Australian studies http://www.aolhealth.com/conditions/ejaculation-frequency-and-prostate-cancer

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