Does Masturbation Increase Your Risk of Getting Prostate Cancer?
27th August 2019
Prostate cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer death in men. In January 2009, a study reported that frequent masturbation by men in their 20s was associated with an increased risk of developing prostate cancer, but that it lowered the risk for men in their 50s. This finding was linked to high levels of male sex hormones (androgens) potentially increasing the risk of prostate cancer.
This study specifically researched whether men with more intense sex drives were at a heightened risk of developing prostate cancer. The study collected sexual histories from 840 men. It was reported that by the age of 60, approximately half of the men had prostate cancer. Furthermore, it was somewhat contradictingly found that sexual intercouse did not affect the risk of developing prostate cancer, despite frequent masturbation seeming to play a role, but in different ways, at different times of life. Specifically, the study found that frequent masturbation by men in their 20s and 30s was associated with a 79% increased risk of developing prostate cancer by age 60, but for men in their 50s, frequent masturbation reduced the risk by 70%. To clarify, for men in their 20s, ‘frequent masturbation’ referred to 2-7 times a week, compared to other men in their 20s who reported masturbating less than once a month. While ‘frequent masturbation’ referred to at least once a week for men in their 50s, compared to men who claimed to never masturbate.
The study proposed some explanations for their findings. It is possible that young men who are genetically predisposed to have hormone-sensitive prostate cancer will have a heightened risk if their bodies produce high levels of male hormones, which correlate with an intense sex drive. Therefore, it is not masturbation itself which increases prostate cancer risk in young men, but that more masturbation may be a result of a high sex drive and consequently higher levels of androgens. While it is argued that for older men, masturbation rids the prostate gland of toxins and is therefore protective of prostate cancer. Furthermore, as the masturbation frequency was reduced for older men, even low levels of masturbation remained protective.
More recently, the NHS published an article exploring a study which reported that frequent ejaculation may reduce prostate cancer risk, regardless of age. They were referring to a US study which concluded that ejaculating at least 21 times a month significantly reduces a man’s risk of having prostate cancer, compared to those ejaculating 4-7 times a month. However, the NHS emphasised that this conclusion did not prove that frequent ejaculation prevents cancer, purely that it is correlated with a reduced risk. A number of other factors contribute to risk, such as diet and genetics. Factors such as keeping cell metabolism well regulated have been hypothesised as reasons why ejaculation may reduce the risk of prostate cancer.
A further 2017 study investigated whether ejaculatory frequency was associated with advanced prostate cancer. The study concluded that a higher frequency of ejaculation was protective for advanced prostate cancer for young men (in their 30s). However, interestingly, this association was only found for men with new sexual partners after age 30. Overall however, they found only weak evidence that ejaculatory frequency reduced advanced prostate cancer risk for men in their 40s, which was not modified by number of new sexual partners. While no correlation was found for men in their 30s and 50s.
In conclusion, it is clear that there is no conclusive evidence as of yet that masurbation either heightens or reduces the risk of developing prostate cancer. However, what is known is that masturbation is entirely safe, so if your patients do want to do it as a preventative measure then it is not known to pose any health risks.
Dimitropoulou, P., Lophatananon, A., Easton, et al. Sexual activity and prostate cancer risk in men diagnosed at a younger age. BJU international, 2009, 103(2), 178-185.