Sport, spectators, and risk for disease

[Editorial comment: The following item is written with “tongue in cheek” and is intended to entertain — although it does have a serious component.]

In late 2006 an article was published in the European Heart Journal about cardiovascular risks associated with participating in and watching major sporting events (specifically the soccer “World Cup,” held that year in Germany). The full text of this article is available on line. The fact that this weekend is the post-“wild card” playoff weekend for the National Football League “Superbowl” in the States stimulated some thoughts about sports and prostate cancer.

The are extensive data about the relationship between stress and risk for cancer (largely in women and associated with risk from breast, cervical, and endometrial cancers).

As I was about to sit down to watch the Eagles play the Giants this afternoon, it occurred to me that maybe there is an association between stress and risk for prostate cancer. And what is more stressful for the average, middle-aged, red-blooded American male than watching “his” football team when they aren’t winning?!

This raises the interesting question of whether, if someone studied the incidence of prostate cancer among avid fans of Major League sports franchises, some teams would come with a higher potential for induction of stress than others?

Let’s consider some examples.

Clearly, being a fan of certain NFL teams is more stressful than supporting other teams. The Eagles, as an example, have an amazing capacity for losing games they should win easily and winning games they are expected to lose. The pressure that Eagles fans place on themselves and on their team is extraordinary. Does this have a relationship to risk for prostate cancer?

In the past decade, as the New England Patriots won (nearly) every game they played — with or without the help of illegally made film of their opposition — did risk for prostate cancer among their fans decline?

Is being a member of the Cleveland Browns “Dog Pound” inevitably associated with a high risk for prostate cancer?

I am looking for members of a small research team that is interested in exploring this interesting research opportunity. We will be applying to the NFL for a $27.3 million grant to conduct a 10-year study of the topic (which will of course require the research team to attend every high profile NFL game each year for that 10-year period — all expenses paid!)

Regardless of the results of this initial study, we will then conduct a similar study among AL and NL baseball team fans. We are particularly concerned about the risk of prostate cancer among Chicago Cubs fans and are also interested in whether there has been a sudden decline in risk for prostate cancer among fans of the Boston Red Sox and the Philadelphia Phillies in recent years!

To enquire about participating in this research, please e-mail and put the words, “I am a fully accredited sports stress researcher” in the e-mail header.

2 Responses

  1. All kidding aside, there was a study back in the 1980s showing that stress (refrigeration, sleep deprivation) is associated with inflammatory cell infiltration in rat dorso-lateral prostate, but not ventral prostate or coagulating glands. What about prostate cancer?

    About 10 years ago my associates at the Miami VA showed that certain dispositional personality traits (attachment styles?) are associated independently of PSA level with biopsy positivity. These inklings give us some first … um … inklings that maybe prostate disease has a partial psychoneuroimmunological etiology.

  2. Well I did state up front that there was a serious element to the piece (although I wasn’t actually referring to those specific studies)!

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