1 in 7 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer this year. This disease affects so many men in the United States and has increased among younger men. The American Urological Association annual meeting was this past week and many new studies were presented around the risk factors, prevention, genetic testing and early diagnosis for prostate cancer. One particular study sparked a lot of interest and not just for the reasons you think.
A study released by the Harvard Medical School found that men in theirs 40s had a 20% decreased risk of prostate cancer when they experienced an orgasm per day. Researchers are led to believe that ejaculation flushes out carcinogens and old cells, diminishing the chance for cancer cells to buildup among the older cells.
Let's talk about the prostate
Let's go back to basics when it comes to this organ. The prostate gland is responsible for producing what we call prostatic fluid with is secreted at the time of ejaculation, creating semen. It is positioned along the path from the bladder to the penis. The urethra, a thin tube running from the bladder through the penis to carry urine and sperm also runs along the prostate. It's a major part of the reproductive system and about the shape and size of a walnut.
This study actually makes a lot of sense. It actually is the largest clinical trial to date on the subject of the connection between the frequency of ejaculation and prostate cancer.
Ejaculation: Modifiable Risk Factor for Prostate Cancer?
This is considered a modifiable risk factor, which is positive for both you and men. It means we can work to prevent it through small changes in our daily lifestyle. This is being deemed as the first modifiable risk factor when it comes to prostate cancer. Risk factors like being African American, genetics cannot be altered, while this is a lifestyle factor, which men are in control of. In general for prostate cancer thus far, the risk factors we're aware of stem more from individual genes and family history.
The notion that ejaculation could actually reduce the risk of prostate cancer is not all that outrageous considering the prostate gland is partly responsible for this process. A second theory looks at the regular sperm being released cleans out the area and allows new cells to develop. Potentially helping to stop the buildup of old cells that are more likely to turn cancerous could be the magic connection to a reduced risk.
Researchers analyzed over 32,000 men over the course of 18 years, starting in 1973. Throughout the study, almost 4,000 men were later diagnosed with prostate cancer. Each were asked about their average monthly frequency of ejaculation between the ages of 20-29 and 40-49.
Turns out, men between the ages of 40-49, an age range that this disease is increasingly affecting, who ejaculated 21 or more times per month, reduced their risk of prostate cancer by 22%, compared to men who only ejaculated 4-7 times per month.
Researchers speculate that the orgasm itself has protective benefits. During this process, two hormones are released: oxytocin and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA).
- Oxyrocin has been shown to lower blood pressure in women
- DHEA has been linked to lower risk for breast and cervical cancer
Researchers are still unclear but deem these findings as hopeful, since this was even the case when they adjusted the results to integrate factors such as diet, lifestyle and history of prostate cancer screening. It's important to note that frequent ejaculation was associated with incident prostate cancer, not lethal prostate cancer.
Indeed more research is needed around the specific changes in the prostate caused by ejaculation, in order for us to understand how it reduces the risk of prostate cancer. But this study connects to a previous one from 2004, published in JAMA, which was the first to suggest high ejaculation frequency as a modifiable risk factor when it comes to prostate cancer.