Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men right after skin cancer according to the CDC. Known risk factors for prostate cancer are being African-American, having a family history of prostate cancer, and being over 50. While there is nothing a person can do about these risk factors, other risk factors such as being overweight and smoking are modifiable, meaning they’re more or less under a person’s control. Research is now focusing their attention on these modifiable risk factors to help men reduce their risk of developing prostate cancer. A new study recently published in International Journal of Cancer has examined some of these risk factors and found that sexual activity was tightly linked to prostate cancer risk in a great number of men.
More Sex Partners and Greater Risk of Cancer
Researchers from the Cancer Council NSW involved around 10,000 men to identify risk factors for prostate cancer and found that this risk seems to increase with the number of sexual partners a man has. For instance, the researchers found that men who had more than seven sexual partners in their lifetime had twice the risk of developing prostate cancer when compared to men who had less than three sexual partners. Similarly, researchers found that men who had more than five orgasms the month prior to their diagnosis of prostate cancer; those who had their first sexual experience before the age of 17, and those who entered puberty earlier than their peers also had a greater risk of developing prostate cancer later in life.
Sex Hormones and Cancer Risk
Visalini Nair-Shalliker, the study’s lead author and research fellow at Cancer Council New South Wales suggests that these findings may be due to a sex hormone called antigen that is somehow linked to sexual activity. She explains that the more sexually active a man was, the greater his risk of developing prostate cancer is according to the study’s findings and this might have something to do with antigen. However, the study fails to provide a causal link, meaning the researchers could not explain why exactly prostate cancer risk increases with the number of sexual partners or orgasm frequency. Nevertheless, these findings open the door to future research on finding the causes and other risk factors of this common cancer in men.
Previous studies have also examined the link between sexual activity and prostate cancer and findings are inconclusive. For instance, a study published in BJU International found that sexual activity in younger men increased their risk of prostate cancer, while in older men, it seems to do the exact opposite. Another study found that ejaculation frequency had no effect on prostate cancer risk whatsoever. Similarly, an older study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology could also not identify a link between prostate cancer risk and lifetime frequency of sexual activity. But all in all, researchers are still unsure whether sexual activity and frequency played any role in prostate cancer.
The Importance of Screening
Dr. Nair-Shalliker explains that the purpose of this study was to identify prostate cancer risk factors so that doctors would know what advice to give to their patients. She explains that men over 50 with a family history of prostate cancer would be able to identify these risk factors by themselves and speak to their doctors about testing for cancer. But she also states that it is too early to start giving advice about sexual activity because the problem of prostate cancer is multi-faceted. Screening for prostate cancer early reduces the risk of complications from prostate cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, prostate cancer is a slow-growing cancer and those with known risk factors are adequate candidates for cancer screening.
Other Risk Factors
The study also examined other possible risk factors for prostate cancer as well. Among things that were not linked to prostate cancer were balding, erectile functioning, asthma, vasectomy, circumcising, and diabetes. The study did find a modest link between prostate cancer and obesity, but the risk was much smaller than was the case with sexual activity and onset of puberty. The link between obesity and prostate cancer was already confirmed in previous research as well.
Prostate cancer is common in men over 50, but younger men with certain risk factors are at a risk of developing this cancer as well. Doctors and patients can identify proven risk factors for prostate cancer and ask for screening to improve a patient’s outcomes. The study from the Cancer Council NSW is one of the several studies showing some link between prostate cancer and greater levels of sexual activity. Although frequent sex, earlier puberty, and a greater number of orgasms were identified as risk factors, the researchers could not provide an explanation to why this is so. We certainly hope that future research might provide a causal link between the two.