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MAMILs may be at greater risk of prostate cancer diagnosis

But academics find no link between cycling and infertility or erectile dysfunction

MAMILs – Middle Aged Men In Lycra – may have a much greater than average risk of being diagnosed with prostate cancer, according to a new study. It’s not all bad news, though with researchers finding no evidence to back up the belief that cycling can lead to erectile dysfunction or infertility.

A team at University College London studied 5,200 male cyclists, 2,000 of them over the age of 50, in what they say is the biggest ever study on the effects of cycling on health, publishing their findings in the Journal of Men’s Health, reports Telegraph.co.uk.

They found that men aged in their 50s who cycle more than half an hour a week are at twice the risk of being diagnosed with prostate cancer. Those spending 8 hours 45 minutes or more in the saddle were six times more likely than average to receive such a diagnosis.

But researchers said that the findings, while surprising, did not necessarily mean there was a direct link between cycling and the disease.

One possibility is that cyclists are more aware of their health than the average person, meaning there is an increased chance of diagnosis, although they said that bike riders were no more likely to visit their doctor than average.

Another explanation however is that cycling does place more pressure on the prostate, although further research would be needed to establish whether there is definitely a link.

Dr Mark Hamer, of UCL’s School of Epidemiology, said: “It’s tricky to interpret. Obviously the men who are cycling for the most amount of time are more health aware so they may be just more likely to be diagnosed.

“Or there could be a genuine biological link between trauma in the area of the prostate associated with bike riding.

“We were quite surprised by the size of the finding for prostate cancer so it does warrant further investigation, but we can’t draw any conclusions from this study.”

Turning to the issue of infertility and erectile dysfunction, he said: “This is good news for male cyclists, there is no association between cycling time and erectile dysfunction and infertility.

“In the modern era of cycling saddles are much better now so there is nothing like the pressure that there once was.

“The absence of a positive association between cycling and infertility allays concerns raised by previous studies about alterations in sperm characteristics in cyclists.

Dr Hamer added: “This study demonstrates that concerns regarding male infertility are cycling has not been born out. Increasing cycling levels in the population has huge potential gains for public health.”

Simon joined road.cc as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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33 comments

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truffy | 9 years ago
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I was also going to refute the statement in my earlier post. But there's so much FUD out there that I simply cannot be arsed. Suffice to say, PE/PP bottles are plastic enough, they don't need plasticisers. And BPA-free bottles are a'plenty...and they don't have BPA.

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Martin Robertson | 9 years ago
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Seem to remember being advised not to drink from certain types of cycle bottles or camel backs due to the risk to the prostate caused by plasticisers used in their manufacture.Look what happened to Sheryl Crow:she blames her breast cancer on drinking water from plastic bottles left in the sun on her tour bus.

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truffy replied to Martin Robertson | 9 years ago
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Martin Robertson wrote:

Seem to remember being advised not to drink from certain types of cycle bottles or camel backs due to the risk to the prostate caused by plasticisers used in their manufacture.Look what happened to Sheryl Crow:she blames her breast cancer on drinking water from plastic bottles left in the sun on her tour bus.

What do you drink from then, o' wise one.

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Martin Robertson replied to truffy | 9 years ago
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I drink from the usual plastic bottles,but the point I was trying to make and failed to do was that this was yet another alarmist headline by car biased news reporters who feel guilty for using cars,but not guilty enough to use alternative forms of transport.

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BigAl68 replied to Martin Robertson | 9 years ago
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Martin Robertson wrote:

Seem to remember being advised not to drink from certain types of cycle bottles or camel backs due to the risk to the prostate caused by plasticisers used in their manufacture.Look what happened to Sheryl Crow:she blames her breast cancer on drinking water from plastic bottles left in the sun on her tour bus.

The plastic bottle urban myth is nothing but twaddle. Do you think we would be selling billions of bottles a year if they were causing cancer?

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seoul | 9 years ago
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Apparently about half of blokes over 60 have an enlarged prostate. I'm one of them, aged 64, and it causes frequent pit stops to urinate. I've read that traditionally shaped saddles may exacerbate or contribute towards this by putting too much pressure on the perineum (the region between the scrotum and anus). It seems there are saddle designs which reduce this health risk and allow more of your body weight to be carried on the appropriate areas of your butt.

One such saddle is the 'no-nose', but the reviews I've seen are mainly negative.

I cannot find is any helpful consensus regarding which saddles I should be thinking of to replace the ones which came with my bikes. Advice such as, 'try several saddles until you find the most comfortable' isn't useful. Once you fit a saddle to your bike you can't exactly return it to the shop a month later to experiment with an alternative.

Moreover, is there a saddle design which addresses the prostate issue which can be used on both road and track bikes?

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Binky | 9 years ago
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why does cycling cause more weight on the prostate than just sitting in the pub, sofa, office or in front of the xbox.

This will be disproved in a few months, just like the infertility and erection problem drama that was bandied around.

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Shades | 10 years ago
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There seems to be a constant stream of these 'at greater risk of' stories these days. Can't decide whether it's the medics/scientists being unprofessional or the media 'cherry picking' at the information to come up with an article. Either way, it's not helpful. I take Statins are there are no end of scare stories, but my high cholesterol is genetic. I'm not overweight, pretty fit and even on a 'monk style' diet, it's still above the safe level. I keep taking the pills and try not to let the scare stories affect me. The other option is high cholesterol and that's linked to heart attacks and strokes.

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LinusLarrabee | 10 years ago
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Hmm... a rather vague "twice the risk" can sometimes translate to 2 out of 100 up from 1 out of 100 - depending on how the data is presented.

It's hard to see how riding would cause prostate cancer. Cancer is caused by a gene mutation and is grown by feeding it animal protein from meat and dairy.

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bikebot replied to LinusLarrabee | 10 years ago
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LinusLarrabee wrote:

It's hard to see how riding would cause prostate cancer.

There's a strong link between inflammation and cancer. Completely speculative, but saddle/friction induced local inflammation sounds like something to consider.

LinusLarrabee wrote:

Cancer is caused by a gene mutation and is grown by feeding it animal protein from meat and dairy.

Cancers cells will feed on anything they can take, the idea they are selective to meat and dairy is a load of old pseudo science nonsense. Steve Jobs fell for that one and went on a vegan diet to avoid the operation his doctors told him he needed. The cancer cells still spread just as quickly and killed him.

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LinusLarrabee replied to bikebot | 10 years ago
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bikebot wrote:

Cancers cells will feed on anything they can take, the idea they are selective to meat and dairy is a load of old pseudo science nonsense.

Only if you consider a 25 year joint study between Oxford and Cornell Universities and the government of China (the result of which was over 300 peer reviewed papers) pseudo science.

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bikebot replied to LinusLarrabee | 10 years ago
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LinusLarrabee wrote:
bikebot wrote:

Cancers cells will feed on anything they can take, the idea they are selective to meat and dairy is a load of old pseudo science nonsense.

Only if you consider a 25 year joint study between Oxford and Cornell Universities and the government of China (the result of which was over 300 peer reviewed papers) pseudo science.

Yes, that's well known research, there's an increased risk in developing cancer from a high meat/dairy diet.

It shouldn't be interpreted to mean that cancer is "grown by feeding it animal protein", which in turn suggest that someone with a cancerous tumour could halt its growth by removing animal protein. There's a whole crooked industry of alternative doctors selling such nonsense, with special diets and cleansing therapies, which will have precisely zero effect except to relieve desperate people of their savings.

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LinusLarrabee replied to bikebot | 10 years ago
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bikebot wrote:

It shouldn't be interpreted to mean that cancer is "grown by feeding it animal protein", which in turn suggest that someone with a cancerous tumour could halt its growth by removing animal protein.

Huh???? That is EXACTLY the conclusion of the "well known" research. It was demonstrated by altering the source and quantity of protein (animal or plants, 5% - 20% of calories) that the growth of tumours could be stopped and started. And there is nothing crocked about the science, it's all been peer reviewed and it's all repeatable. The only thing that is crocked is the unshakable worldview that people have. People like eating animal proteins and they don't want to be told that doing so is what's killing them - it's much easier to blame genes, bad luck or riding a bike then and hope that somebody comes up with a pill, potion or vaccine that will allow them to continue eating animal products. And no, the scientists who first published this research are not selling special diets or cleansing therapies - their recommendation is to eat a whole foods, plant based diet of fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts and seeds, but there's not much money in recommending that.

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bikebot replied to LinusLarrabee | 10 years ago
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LinusLarrabee wrote:

Huh???? That is EXACTLY the conclusion of the "well known" research. It was demonstrated by altering the source and quantity of protein (animal or plants, 5% - 20% of calories) that the growth of tumours could be stopped and started. And there is nothing crocked about the science, it's all been peer reviewed and it's all repeatable.

That tumour study was done on mice. There's an enormous amount of discussion about what it means, and ongoing research. To suggest it is all peer reviewed and undisputed is nonsense.

The human dietary studies have also suggested the effect reverses around the age of 65, with lower cancer rates for those on a high protein diet. I'm assuming you don't endorse that.

Selective reading and interpretation based on personal beliefs is bad science.

And as someone who has lost friends and family to cancer, I have one piece of advice for you. If you're ever unlucky enough to hear those words, take the fucking surgery, the chemotherapy, the radiotherapy, the drugs and whatever else medical science can offer. You can't stop a tumour growing with your diet.

Yes, people that spread that myth annoy me, you're propping up quack doctors and conmen.

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sean1 | 10 years ago
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The key statement here from Dr Mark Hamer is ;

"...but we can’t draw any conclusions from this study.”

Why do they even publish these pointless reports when there is no evidence of anything from the analysis.

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bikebot | 10 years ago
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An obvious thought, would there not be a significant difference when comparing countries with vastly different cycling rates?

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bikebot | 10 years ago
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It's a subject certainly deserving of attention, the link isn't something to easily dismiss. If further research can establish a probable explanation, than hopefully a way to minimise the risk would follow.

It should be noted though that whilst cancer is scary subject, prostate cancer is often a relatively benign condition. An awful lot of people who are diagnosed with it don't receive any significant medical treatment as it progresses very slowly and usually appears in old age. Sir Ian McKellen for example has had the condition since 2006.

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andyp | 10 years ago
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Good old Bad Science.

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Him Up North | 10 years ago
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When I read health stories like this (not necessarily cycling-related) I always check www.nhs.uk/news for the facts behind the banner headlines.

Lo and behold: http://www.nhs.uk/news/2014/07July/Pages/Cycling-linked-to-prostate-canc...

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rowemeister83 replied to Him Up North | 10 years ago
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Him Up North wrote:

When I read health stories like this (not necessarily cycling-related) I always check www.nhs.uk/news for the facts behind the banner headlines.

Lo and behold: http://www.nhs.uk/news/2014/07July/Pages/Cycling-linked-to-prostate-canc...

Excellent find, thanks for the link. Great to see irrational reporting (The Daily Mail) debunked, and put in perspective.
As ever, Sample Size is everything. Ultimately, there is no conclusive proof with prostate cancer analysis from just 42 men (If I'm reading the breakdown correctly).
Whilst I think it is important to monitor your health, people should not be unduly worried by this article, and should look at the vast bulk of data available from other (peer-reviewed) sources.
Keep Cycling, and be happy!

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usedtobefaster replied to Him Up North | 10 years ago
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Him Up North wrote:

When I read health stories like this (not necessarily cycling-related) I always check www.nhs.uk/news for the facts behind the banner headlines.

Lo and behold: http://www.nhs.uk/news/2014/07July/Pages/Cycling-linked-to-prostate-canc...

So the prostate analyses was only on 42 men, so where does the 5200 mentioned in this article come from?

I think I'll carry on riding and take the risk, oh and avoid heart disease, weight gain, possible diabetes (weight gain), better mental health plus I'm sure there are many other benefits.

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Him Up North replied to usedtobefaster | 10 years ago
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usedtobefaster wrote:

So the prostate analyses was only on 42 men, so where does the 5200 mentioned in this article come from?

I think I'll carry on riding and take the risk, oh and avoid heart disease, weight gain, possible diabetes (weight gain), better mental health plus I'm sure there are many other benefits.

5282 male cyclists answered the online survey. Of that number 42 men answered that they had been diagnosed with prostate cancer by a doctor. The researchers analysed the medical history answers compared to number of hours cycled BUT only for the cyclists over 50 years old, not all those surveyed. So the "link" between saddle time and prostate cancer is being taken from a sample of possibly fewer than 42 men out of 5282.

+1 on carrying on doing what we're doing.  1

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notfastenough replied to Him Up North | 10 years ago
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Him Up North wrote:
usedtobefaster wrote:

So the prostate analyses was only on 42 men, so where does the 5200 mentioned in this article come from?

I think I'll carry on riding and take the risk, oh and avoid heart disease, weight gain, possible diabetes (weight gain), better mental health plus I'm sure there are many other benefits.

5282 male cyclists answered the online survey. Of that number 42 men answered that they had been diagnosed with prostate cancer by a doctor. The researchers analysed the medical history answers compared to number of hours cycled BUT only for the cyclists over 50 years old, not all those surveyed. So the "link" between saddle time and prostate cancer is being taken from a sample of possibly fewer than 42 men out of 5282.

+1 on carrying on doing what we're doing.  1

"The researchers only analysed the data of men aged over 50 (2,027 men)..."

Also:
"•The survey was only sent to current cyclists. There was therefore no control group to compare the results with, and the results would have missed men who no longer cycle because of ill health.
•The study was carried out at only one point in time, so self-reported cycling may have differed if the men were surveyed at a different point in time. Factors such as the time of year when they answered the survey (whether it was winter or summer) may have affected their responses."

Finally:
"Cyclists need not panic, as this research has not proved a cause and effect relationship between prostate cancer and the amount of time a week a man spends cycling."

Ooh, Daily Mail in "absolute bollox" shocker...

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notfastenough replied to Him Up North | 10 years ago
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Him Up North wrote:

When I read health stories like this (not necessarily cycling-related) I always check www.nhs.uk/news for the facts behind the banner headlines.

Lo and behold: http://www.nhs.uk/news/2014/07July/Pages/Cycling-linked-to-prostate-canc...

I'm forever trying to explain to others why bad science reporting can be even worse than no science reporting, but never seen that site. "Behind the Headlines" is awesome! Thanks for sharing.

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FluffyKittenofT... | 10 years ago
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Pretty much any man who lives long enough will get prostate cancer. It's a crap bit of design.
Its very existence is proof that God's a woman, I think.

(Most who get it die of something else before it gets diagnosed)

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mikroos | 10 years ago
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Call me what you will, but I have nothing against being diagnosed. The sooner you learn about the problem, the greater your chances of full recovery are - especially in case of cancer. It's far too common for people (and from my observation, mainly men!) to be far more afraid of hearing the diagnosis than being actually ill.

That said, I hope that it's just a case of a "false positive" and a sign of health-awareness of cyclists!

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don simon fbpe | 10 years ago
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Best I don't get out of bed anymore, bed sores permitting...

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drfabulous0 | 10 years ago
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Dr Mark Hamer, of UCL’s School of Epidemiology wrote:

Obviously the men who are cycling for the most amount of time are more health aware so they may be just more likely to be diagnosed.

I always find it hard to take people seriously who say "Obviously" before a stupid statement. Better fitness is a nice side effect but I don't cycle for health reasons at all.

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Jimmy Ray Will | 10 years ago
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My understanding, and please correct me if I am wrong, is that nearly all males over a certain age will have a degree of prostate cancer... or at least, a large percentage of postmortems carried out on males over a certain age will find a degree of prostate cancer present.

My father has prostate cancer and when I heard the news I was gutted... however its not necessarily that bad news. Turns out that not many people die from diagnosed prostate cancer as it can be managed very successfully. What kills is undiagnosed prostate cancer which spreads to other organs and kills you. The irony is that my dad is now less likely to die because of prostate cancer now than most people his age.

Being diagnosed is not a bad thing, not being diagnosed is really bad.

As I also understand it, cyclists do tend to have slightly enlarged prostates. I can see a knock on effect of this being that you are likely to have symptoms that will raise prostate cancer flags with doctors, are more likely to get tested, adn therefore diagnosed.

It would be interesting however to understand if there is a link to enlarged prostates and cancer.

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Beatnik69 | 10 years ago
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Is it possible that cyclists would notice any discomfort in n that area sooner so are more likely to get it checked.

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