Men’s Health: Urology
With the Tour De France UK Stages about to commence and with fond memories of our Olympic gold medals, cycling has seen an increase in popularity over the last few years. Cycling is a fun and effective form of exercise, but some worry that pressure from a bicycle saddle can cause urinary, sexual, prostate problems and can even increase your risk of prostate cancer.
Some data from clinical studies shows that side effects of bicycle riding in men are most often genital numbness. Rarer effects can include infertility, impotence, blood in the urine, twisting of the spermatic cord, prostatitis, or inflammation of the prostate, and elevated PSA levels. But do the pros of an active lifestyle outweigh the risks?
As a keen cyclist Mr Paul Carter, Consultant Urologist explains, ‘The prostate-specific antigen, or PSA, test is the current gold standard for identifying prostate cancer. Although studies are mixed about the effects of cycling on the PSA test, a few have linked cycling to temporary elevated PSA levels, which could lead to a false screening. If you are concerned about the possibility and have an upcoming PSA test, you may consider avoiding cycling before blood sampling. Regular bicycle riding does not cause prostate cancer, and it may even reduce your risk for developing it. ’
While some studies have shown that incidence of prostatitis caused by bicycling were the result of compression of the prostate from sitting on the saddle for long periods, a Swedish study between 1998 and 2007 followed 45,887 men aged 45 to 79 years of age to investigate the effect of lifetime physical activity on the incidence of prostate cancer. Their results, published in 2009 in the British Journal of Cancer, found that men who had the highest lifetime physical activity level had a 16 percent decreased risk of developing prostate cancer compared with men with the lowest level of activity. The researchers estimated that each 30-minute daily period of walking or bicycling reduced the risk of developing prostate cancer by 7 percent.
Mr Carter, goes on to explain that, ‘if you have a chronic prostate problem that’s provoked by using a conventional seat, you can switch to a recumbent seat. ‘Noseless’ bicycle saddles can reduce numbness, pressure and genital discomfort in male cyclists. A traditional bike saddle puts 25% to 40% of your body's weight on the nerves and blood vessels down there, but a no-nose saddle shifts that weight toward the sit bones.’
A lack of exercise and eating a high-fat diet are two risk factors for developing prostate cancer that you can control. Other risk factors include your age, race, genetics and family history.
Mr Carter concludes that, ‘Men who get the most exercise have a lower incidence of prostate cancer when compared with men who get little or no exercise. Exercising on most days of the week can help you lower your risk of developing prostate cancer. Bicycle riding is an excellent form of exercise and will not increase your risk of prostate cancer. Other ways to reduce your risk of prostate cancer are staying at a healthy weight and eating a well-balanced, healthy diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole-grain foods.’