Celibacy and prostate cancer risk

You see the topic come up over and over again, so let’s be clear: there is no demonstrated relationship between celibacy and risk for prostate cancer, and there are historic data to back this up.

Back in the 1980s, Michalek et al. specifically investigated the possible role of a celibate lifestyle in the etiology (development) of prostate cancer. To do this, they studied mortality data from an average annual cohort of 6,226 Roman Catholic clergymen in New York State from 1965 through 1977.

The death certificates of 1,006 priests were reviewed. Of these deaths, 156 (15.5 percent) were attributable to malignant forms of cancer. However, when these data were compared to the known mortality patterns among white males of comparable ages in New York State over the same period of time, the priests demonstrated:

  • Overall mortality ratios that were 15 percent lower for all causes of death
  • Cancer mortality ratios that were 30 percent lower for all forms of cancer

In addition, Michalek et al. identified only 12 deaths from prostate cancer as compared to a projected number of 19.8. This represents a prostate cancer mortality experience that was actually 39 percent lower than that of the general, non-celibate population.

The same study showed that lower mortality ratios were found also for cancers of the lung, the colon and rectum, and the stomach. On the other hand, higher mortality ratios were found for malignant melanoma and unspecified respiratory organs.

5 Responses

  1. Funny you should take this up now when all the headlines are blaring that sex can cause prostate cancer!!

    Above study has already been discredited, BTW.

    There was also a study that said masturbation can *prevent* PC. It’s all hooey.

    Obviously, there is a connection between testosterone and PC, but we haven’t figured it out.



  2. Leah: Can’t help it if everyone else is late on the news! We dealt with the masturbastion and sex study weeks ago (last year to be precise). As you note, it’s so flawed as to be near to meaningless.

  3. To be “clear” about this issue, we need to acknowledge that the latest findings are unclear.

    As with smoking, the best advice is perhaps to remain cautious about possible links to cancer. As medical research continues in this area, it is evident more studies are needed. The fact remains that high PSA levels are evident with prostate cancer and PSA levels decrease after ejaculation.

  4. Actually: (1) High PSA levels are not always evident in prostate cancer at all — especially in early stage disease. (2) PSA levels do not necessarily decrease after ejaculation. Indeed, men are advised not to have intercourse or other sexual activity for 24-48 hours prior to a blood draw for PSA testing because PSA levels can rise immediately after sexual activity.

    We are aware of no evidence whatsoever of any association between celibacy and risk for prostate cancer. We are also not aware of any good evidence that celibacy prevents prostate cancer.

  5. If you use the pure scientific method, then the study is flawed from the very beginning. The study only looked at mortality among Catholic priests for prostate cancer.

    It’s a well-known fact that prostate cancer is one of the slowest growing cancers that one can get and most of the time men outlive prostate cancer and die of something else.

    A truer representation of prostate cancer among Catholic priest would be to find those percentages that had a diagnosis of prostate cancer whether or not they died from it. This would give a more realistic relationship between celibacy and prostate cancer.

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