Cyclists: Scary study about prostate cancer deserves a closer reading

Aug. 5, 2014—A British study about bike riding and prostate cancer may have you thinking one leads to the other. However, researchers don’t yet know if that’s the case.

The study appeared in the Journal of Men’s Health, and if you heard about it, you might be concerned. However, you might not have heard about the study’s limitations—even though that’s something the researchers were careful to include in their report.

Basically, the study found an association between an increased risk of prostate cancer and increased time spent bike riding in men older than 50. The association was most pronounced among men who said they rode their bikes more than 8.5 hours a week.

It’s the first time any study has reported such a link, researchers said. But they also were quick to add that the study was not designed to show if or how biking causes prostate cancer. Other, more sophisticated trials would be needed for that.

About the study

Researchers analyzed data collected in an online survey advertised in the United Kingdom through biking publications and cycling groups. The survey included questions about biking habits—such as average hours spent cycling each week—and about health issues such as erectile dysfunction (ED), infertility and prostate cancer.

Researchers analyzed responses from 5,282 men, adjusting for factors such as smoking, alcohol intake and body mass index.

This trial was designed to show associations between cycling and certain health conditions. But the study also had a number of limitations. For instance:

  • Participants did not come from a random sample. Men decided on their own whether or not to respond.
  • Since it was done over the Internet, responses from the participants could not be independently verified. There was no opportunity for follow-up medical exams or interviews with participants.

Besides prostate cancer, this study also looked into possible connections between bike riding and ED and bike riding and infertility. Previous studies had found such links; this one did not.

Researchers aren’t sure why. At the very least, they said the conflicting results indicate that any cause-and-effect relationship is more complex than previously thought.

To read the full study, click here.

The take-home message
While the potential for health problems due to biking might give you pause, more studies are needed before the links are made clear. In addition, researchers noted that most people fail to get the exercise they need and that regular exercise—including cycling—contributes to good health.

Experts give a number of reasons to exercise. For instance:

  • Increased cardiovascular fitness—to reduce the risk for heart disease and stroke.
  • Better weight control—to make diabetes, high blood pressure and joint problems less likely.
  • Improved mental health—to reduce stress, anxiety and depression.

So if you’re concerned that cycling could be at the root of health problems you’re facing, be sure to talk to your doctor. Before you back off of cycling (or scrap plans to get fit), you may want to wait for additional follow-up studies.

 

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