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Does sexual activity affect my risk of cancer?

Does sexual activity affect my risk of cancer?

Updated: 12/21/2015

What does sex have to do with prostate cancer? Could sexual activity impact my risk of getting prostate cancer? While investigating these questions, scientists have come up with several theories:

Sex Increases Cancer Risk

  • According to Elizabeth A. Platz, Sc.D., some researchers speculate that men who have sex more often may be more likely to acquire a sexually transmitted disease, which may infect the prostate and cause inflammation — increasing their risk of prostate cancer. (Read more about the link between inflammation and prostate cancer.)
  • Others claim that men who have sex more often have a higher sex drive due to higher levels of male hormones, which may increase the risk of prostate cancer.

Sex Reduces Cancer Risk

Some researchers believe that sexual activity may decrease the risk of prostate cancer. Regular ejaculation cleans house in the prostate, making it a less welcome environment for cancer-causing agents, infection and stagnant materials that could lead to inflammation.

Health Professionals Follow-Up Study

Dr. Platz and her colleagues at Harvard University and the National Cancer Institute were unconvinced that frequent sex increases the risk of developing prostate cancer. As part of a large study led by Professor Michael F. Leitzmann, M.D., M.P.H., from Harvard University, researchers studied nearly 30,000 men participating in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study. Most of the participants were white, middle-aged men who had never had a sexually transmitted disease.

In 1992, the researchers asked the men who did not have prostate cancer to report their typical number of ejaculations per month during their twenties, forties and the past year.

Over the next eight years, nearly 1,500 of these men developed prostate cancer. The scientists found that men who reported more ejaculations (more than 21 per month) during their adulthood had two thirds the lifetime risk of prostate cancer of men who reported fewer (4 to 7) ejaculations each month. Compared with men reporting fewer ejaculations per month at all ages, men who had 21 or more ejaculations per month had one fourth the risk of prostate cancer.

Study Features Boost Credibility

Several features of the study lend credibility to the findings. For example, the large number of test subjects and the fact that the men reported their ejaculation frequency well before they were diagnosed with prostate cancer strengthens the results. In addition, the scientists were able to rule out such factors as a man's history of sexually transmitted diseases, which could have clouded the outcome.

Another recent study of several men, some with and others without prostate cancer, produced similar findings, according to Dr. Platz. Based on these two large, well-conducted studies, men should not be worried that frequent ejaculation will cause prostate cancer. The next step is to figure out why frequent ejaculation seems to have this protective effect and the role of inflammation.


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