Like all forms of exercise, cycling is an excellent way to stay healthy. Cycling to meet weekly exercise recommendations can help individuals maintain a healthy body weight, lower the risk of heart disease, and help mitigate the risk of lifestyle diseases like diabetes. Some research does show that cycling too often could raise the risk of prostate cancer, though the results deserve much more explanation.
Cycling and Prostate Cancer: The Study
Cycling and prostate health have been linked for several years, particularly in the wake of a 2014 study that discovered a direct relationship between the amount of riding time per week and the risk of a prostate cancer diagnosis.
Beyond the headlines, there were some significant pitfalls associated with the study.
First, elevated risk levels were only associated with men over the age of 50; younger male cyclists didn’t experience statistically significant different rates of diagnosis. The study also focused exclusively on cyclists. This lack of broader context is should provide a sense of relief; while the risk of prostate cancer is six times higher for riders putting in over 8.5 hours per week than those riding 3.75 hours or less, they have a lower chance of a diagnosis than non-cyclists.
How Cycling Impacts Prostate Health
Bike riding and prostate cancer have a complicated correlation, but it may not be cycling itself. The sport may exacerbate existing health conditions or contribute to possible causes of prostate cancer.
Prostatic inflammation. Cycling puts considerable pressure on the perineum, which could cause chronic inflammation. The condition, known as prostatitis, is also caused by bacterial infections of the urinary tract.
Testosterone. Exercise usually triggers increased testosterone production, which can stimulate early cancer cell growth. This is a speculative cause, however; testosterone levels, even after exercise, tend to remain low in men over the age of 50.
Free radicals. Hard exercise produces a form of free radicals called reactive oxidative species, or ROS. Over time, this type of free radical can damage DNR and trigger cancer cell production.
Most experts believe prostasis is the most likely link between bike riding and prostate cancer, but it’s certainly difficult to quantify the relationship.
Updated Research Reduces Causal Risk
More recently, a UK study examined a study of over 1 million men between 1968 and 2005. The results largely mirrored the initial research but with an important caveat. While more active individuals were 7% more likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer, researchers largely attributed it to a higher rate of cancer screening.
The study also found impressive risk reduction for nearly a dozen types of cancer, including:
- Head and neck – 19% less likely
- Oesophagus – 39% less likely
- Stomach – 21% less likely
- Pancreas – 12% less likely
- Liver – 40% less likely
- Colon – 18% less likely
- Rectum – 5% less likely
- Kidney – 20% less likely
- Lung – 42% less likely
Cycling is an overwhelming net positive for health and well-being, and while a family history of prostate cancer and advice from your healthcare provider should be considered, going for a ride is likely an excellent investment in overall wellness.
We’re focused on empowering individuals and families to lower their cancer risk through advocacy, education, and support. Make time to move every day, and consider joining cancer prevention events like Less Cancer’s Hike and Bike every June. Support our work with a donation today!