Masturbation and Prostate Cancer Risk
Masturbation Frequency Linked to Prostate Risk in 20s, Protection in 50s
Jan. 27, 2009 -- Frequent masturbation in young men is linked to higher risk of
cancer, but it lowers prostate cancer risk for men in their 50s, a study
High levels of male sex hormones, or androgens, may increase a man's risk of
prostate cancer. But different studies of this question, done in different
ways, have reached different conclusions.
To look at the question in a new way, a team of researchers at England's
University of Nottingham looked at whether men with more intense sex drives
were at higher risk of prostate cancer.
Polyxeni Dimitropoulou, PhD; Rosalind Eeles, PhD, FRCP; and Kenneth R. Muir,
PhD, obtained detailed sexual histories from 840 men. About half the men got
prostate cancer by age 60, and about half did not have cancer.
The findings were surprising. Sexual intercourse did not affect prostate
cancer risk. But frequent masturbation did -- in different ways, at different
times of life.
"Frequent masturbation during men's 20s and 30s increased their risk of
prostate cancer," Dimitropoulou tells WebMD. "But men in their 50s who
masturbated frequently had decreased risk."
Of course, masturbation frequency is relative.
For men in their 20s, "frequent masturbation" was two to seven times
per week. Compared to same-age men who reported masturbating less than once per
month, 20-something frequent masturbators had a 79% higher risk of
prostate cancer by age 60.
For men in their 50s, "frequent masturbation" was one or more times
per week. Compared to same-age men who reported never masturbating,
50-something frequent masturbators had a 70% lower risk of prostate
What's going on? The study wasn't designed to answer that question. But
Dimitropoulou and colleagues have some theories.
They suggest that young men genetically predisposed to have
hormone-sensitive prostate cancer will be at higher risk if their bodies
naturally produce high levels of male hormones -- the same hormones that give
them an intense sex drive.
So it's not masturbation itself that's increasing prostate cancer risk in
young men. More masturbation may just mean more sex drive -- and more androgens
bathing prostate tissues.
That's not the case for older men. Dimitropoulou suggests that in older men,
masturbation itself may actually be helpful, ridding the prostate gland of
fluids that may contain cancer-causing substances.
"In mature age, it may be more important that toxins get flushed out of
the system," she says. "And because the masturbation frequency was not
as high in the men's 50s as it was in their 20s, even low levels of
masturbation in the 50s has a protective effect."
These are just theories, Dimitropoulou warns. More research is needed to
determine the exact role of sex hormones and sexual activity in prostate-cancer
risk at different stages of life.
Meanwhile, Dimitropoulou, now at England's University of Cambridge, advises
moderation for both younger and older men.
"It is kind of logical that a moderate level of masturbatory activity
has to be maintained," she says. "Not too much, and not none at
Dimitropoulou and colleagues report their findings in the January issue of