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Can masturbation cause prostate cancer? What research says

Here is a scientific finding that most men will love: Having frequent ejaculations might help protect against prostate cancer. However, not all experts agree on this.

Doctor speaking to a male patient after physical examination on a hospital bed

Key takeaways

  • Everyone with a prostate is at risk for prostate cancer, and the number one risk factor for prostate cancer is age.
  • There is no clear evidence that indicates masturbation causes prostate cancer. Also, scientists don't all agree on what role sexual activity plays in prostate cancer.
  • More research is needed before we can know for sure whether having frequent ejaculations reduces the risk of prostate cancer.

For years, researchers have been curious to find out if there is a link between masturbation and prostate cancer. The answer is tilting towards what most men may find pleasurable. However, not all scientists agree on this.

Read on to find out more about the link between prostate cancer, masturbation, and sexual activity.

Can masturbation cause prostate cancer?

There is no clear scientific evidence to suggest that masturbation causes cancer. In fact, most studies say that having frequent ejaculations can help protect the prostate, which may reduce the risk of prostate cancer.

One of the first studies to establish the link between prostate cancer and the frequency of ejaculation was a 2004 study led by Harvard researchers. The researchers found that men who ejaculated 21 times or more in a month were less likely to develop prostate cancer than men who ejaculated four to seven times a month.

Some years later, new researchers followed up on the 2004 study for about ten years to know for sure if there was a link between how many times men ejaculated and the risk of prostate cancer. They also found that men who said they ejaculated more often were less likely to get prostate cancer in the future than men who said they ejaculated less often. 

According to the latter study, for men in their 20s and 40s, ejaculating more than 20 times per month reduced prostate cancer risk by 20% compared to ejaculating only four to seven times a month.

Scientists do not really understand how ejaculation reduces prostate cancer risk. However, according to an article published by Dr. Anne Calvaresi, chair of the Urology Care Foundation, men who ejaculate more often may have healthier habits, which reduces their odds of being diagnosed with prostate cancer.

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Does masturbation or sexual activity reduce the risk of prostate cancer?

Just as previously stated, there is no clear evidence to suggest that masturbation reduces the risk of prostate cancer. More research is needed before we can know for sure that masturbation or sexual activity has significant benefits in protecting against prostate cancer.

Different scientists stand on different sides of the fence on the relationship between masturbation and prostate cancer. Some studies suggest that the higher the number of ejaculations, the lower the risk of prostate cancer. However, other studies have found that ejaculating frequently has no impact on the diagnosis of prostate cancer.

There are still others that found very weak evidence that ejaculating frequently impacted prostate cancer risk, and if there is, it was age dependent. For example, a 2017 Australian study found that men aged 30 to 39 who ejaculated frequently had a lower prostate cancer risk—but this was not the case for men in their 20s or 40s.

When it comes to sexual activity and prostate cancer risk, it is still not clear. One 2014 study found that men who had more than 20 female sexual partners in their lifetime had a lower risk of getting prostate cancer than men with fewer partners. Specifically, the researchers found that men who had sex with more than one woman had a 28% higher risk of being diagnosed with prostate cancer than men who had only one sexual partner.

However, a 2018 meta-analysis found the opposite—the more female sexual partners someone had, the higher the risk of prostate cancer. According to the study, men who had ten or more lifetime sexual partners reported more cancer diagnoses than men who had 0–1 sexual partners.

Even though more research is being done to find out if masturbation or sexual activity causes prostate cancer, there is no reason to avoid having sex as long as it is safe.

What are the primary causes of prostate cancer?

Scientists do not know the exact cause of prostate cancer. However, here is what is known so far:

Prostate cancer usually begins due to changes in the DNA; why this happens is still unclear. These changes lead to abnormal cell growth. The abnormal cells divide more rapidly than normal cells. Over time, these abnormal cells will break out of the prostate and metastasize (spread) to other parts of the body, causing complications. 

While scientists are still unsure of the exact cause of prostate cancer, they have identified several risk factors that can increase your chances of being diagnosed with the disease. 

Factors that can increase the risk of prostate cancer

The risk factors for cancer can be broadly categorized into modifiable and non-modifiable factors. The non-modifiable risk factors are those factors that are not under our control and that we can do nothing about, like our age or family history. The modifiable risk factors are those we can do something about, like our lifestyle choices.

Non-modifiable risk factors

Non-modifiable risk factors for prostate cancer include:

1. Age

Age is the most important risk factor for prostate cancer. The older a man gets, the more likely it is that he will develop prostate cancer. Six out of every ten men diagnosed with prostate cancer are 65 or older.

Prostate cancer is rarely diagnosed in men under the age of 40. However, if you are diagnosed with prostate cancer at a younger age, you are more likely to have a more severe form of the disease than other men.

2. Ethnicity

Black men are more likely than other men to develop prostate cancer, and they are also twice as likely to die from it.

3. Family history of cancer (genetics)

You are more likely to develop prostate cancer if you have more than one first-degree relative (father, son, or brother) who has had prostate cancer or if you have family members who have been diagnosed with other types of cancer, such as breast, ovarian, or pancreatic cancer.

Most people diagnosed with a type of prostate cancer caused by genetic changes are 55 and younger.

Modifiable risk factors

Some modifiable risk factors of prostate cancer include:

1. Diet

A diet high in processed meat (especially red meat), saturated fats, and sugar may increase your risk of prostate cancer.

Furthermore, studies have suggested that men who consume a lot of dairy products or calcium may be at a higher risk of developing prostate cancer.

This is not to say that you should avoid getting calcium in your diet; calcium has numerous other important health benefits.

According to a Harvard publication, men should limit their calcium intake to less than 2000 mg daily because most studies that linked the calcium diet to prostate cancer found a relationship in men with calcium intakes of 2000 mg or higher.

2. Obesity

Some studies have found that men with more total and central fat are more likely to die from prostate cancer than men with a healthy weight.

Studies have also found that men with a body mass index (BMI) that falls within the obesity range are more likely to have advanced prostate cancer and die from it. However, not all studies have found this to be true.

3. Smoking

Even though the biological link between smoking and prostate cancer is not clear, it has been found that smoking makes you more likely to get prostate cancer.

How to reduce the risk of developing prostate cancer

There is no foolproof way to avoid prostate cancer. While some risk factors, such as age, ethnicity, and family history, are beyond your control, there are several things you can do to reduce your risk of prostate cancer, including:

  • Eating a healthy diet rich in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables
  • Cutting back on the consumption of red and processed meats
  • Keeping a healthy weight
  • Limiting alcohol consumption
  • Reducing your calcium intake
  • Quitting smoking
  • Staying physically active

Although all these are great suggestions, it is important to get regular prostate screenings, especially if you are over 50 or have a family history of the disease. Screening will help detect prostate cancer even in the early stage. The earlier the diagnosis, the earlier doctors commence prostate cancer treatment.