Please note: This article was published a long time ago. Some facts might have been changed since then!
This is a guy thing.
You women have your problems in this area, but this article does not address you. Sorry, maybe the next issue.
Most of us male cyclists experience some degree of numbness on longer rides. Even with proper seat height and angle adjustments, there’s no getting around the inevitable pressure on the perineal area (that’s the area between your penis and your anus), where you’re actually exerting pressure directly on your prostate.
The suggestion that long-distance or long-term cycling contributes to prostate cancer has appeared in magazines, at cycling club meetings, and on Internet sports medicine and health bulletin boards. Until recently, there was no clinical research focusing specifically on the correlation (if any) between avid cycling and prostate cancer.
In 1996, such a research study was undertaken right here in Charleston, West Virginia. Two of the doctors performing the research are friends of mine, and avid cyclists themselves. For them, their research could have personal relevance.
Their study made extensive use of the PSA (Prostate-Specific Antigen) Blood Test that can detect prostate cancer in its earliest stages. Without hesitation, I offered myself as a participant for the study.
Eliminating most of the medical jargon, here is a summary of the study:
THE TEST SUBJECTS – 20 men, all healthy, avid cyclists (aged 27 to 54).
THE PRELIMINARIES – Medical histories, PSA exams, and a digital (oy, that’s the finger!) rectal exam. These initial “baseline” exams occurred during non-cycling periods.
THE TEST – Two PSA exams: one immediately after, and one 48 hours after the 1996 Charleston Sternwheel Regatta Bike Tour: 2-7 hours; 32-162 miles)
THE RESULTS – NO significant increases in PSA levels due to cycling.
THE CONCLUSION – Cycling does NOT cause prostate cancer.
I have greatly simplified the summary, but I think you get the point that there does not seem to be any clinical correlation between long-term or long-distance cycling and elevated PSA levels [in normal healthy subjects.]
Another finding that was not surprising, was that most of the cyclists in this study did experience some numbness in the perineal area.
This numbness, subject of another research study, has been associated with at least temporary restrictive urinary flow through the prostate, but there have been no long term studies to suggest or refute whether long-term or long-distance cycling causes any long term, chronic, or permanent prostate or urinary flow damage.
One obvious drawback to the study is that the test subjects’ PSA levels were only tracked over a short period of time. Although all of our PSA levels were, during all of the tests, “within the normal range,” there is no data to determine the trend of our PSA levels since before our avid cycling activities began. Some of us ride a few hundred miles annually, while some of us ride that amount monthly.
Some have ridden for years, and some for decades. Because the PSA blood test has only been widely used over the very recent past, baseline PSA levels for the test subjects would not have been available for any significant period before this study. As one of those cyclists, I would certainly welcome the opportunity to participate in follow-up studies to continue watching any trend our PSA levels may indicate.
For now, keep your seat properly adjusted, have your prostate checked regularly, and ride, ride, ride.
The actual text of the PSA study and the Penile Numbness study can be found, respectively, in the Archives of Family Medicine; Vol. 6; Sept/Oct 1997; 500-502, and the Journal of Urology; 1994;151;423-425.