Understanding the Link Between Long-Distance Cycling and Cancer
- Cyclist Lance Armstrong, 52, and Hall of Fame football player and coach Deion Sanders, 56, came together to talk football and see Armstrong fix Sanders’ custom-made bike. Armstrong quipped about the seat on the bike, calling it a “prostate saver.”
- Research on whether cycling impacts prostate or testicular cancer risk is inconclusive and needs more study, says medical oncologist at Dana-Farber’s Lank Center for Genitourinary Oncology, Dr. Mark Pomerantz. He adds that in testicular cancer, some studies have shown a connection between cycling and cancer, and some have not.
- PSA test measures the level of PSA in the blood, and higher levels can indicate cancer.
- Most prostate cancer is caught with screening examinations, and treatment is based on whether the cancer is “low risk,” “intermediate risk,” or “high risk.”
- Armstrong was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 1996. It begins in the cells that make sperm. Fortunately for men with this kind of cancer, “it can be cured, even if diagnosed at an advanced stage,” according to the National Cancer Institute. It often presents a painless mass in the testicle.
Cyclist Lance Armstrong, 52, brightened college football coach Deion Sanders’ day by fixing his prized custom-made bike. It only took Armstrong a few seconds to tweak the brakes and get the bike into tip-top shape. He then cracked a joke claiming, “I didn’t have the little prostate saver,” referring to the seat on the bicycle, prompting laughter.
While the joke was a quick passing quip, research on whether long-term cycling impacts the prostate and elevates cancer risk in men remains inconclusive despite multiple studies that have given varying results.Read More
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To the broader question about bicycle riding and cancer, the research is inconclusive and needs further research, a medical oncologist at Dana-Farber’s Lank Center for Genitourinary Oncology, Dr. Mark Pomerantz, says. He adds that in testicular cancer, some studies have shown a connection between cycling and cancer, and some have not. Despite possible risks, Dr. Pomerantz adds, “Given what we know right now, I would say that the benefits of any exercise you’re doing, even on the bicycle, more than offset any of the risks.”
A 2009 study published in “Urology” that evaluated 34 healthy men who rigorously cycled found “no effect of professional bicycle riding on serum total fPSA levels.”
A PSA test is a simple blood test that screens for prostate cancer. It looks for larger amounts of protein-specific antigen (PSA) in the blood.
A different research study published in “Prostate Cancer and Prostatic Diseases” evaluated eight studies involving 912 male participants who regularly bicycled. In this study, the researchers said there was “no effect of cycling on PSA,” adding that more research is needed. Another study from 2013 evaluated 129 men between 50 and 71 who bicycled a long distance. When the participants’ PSA levels were tested, researchers in this study did notice a slight increase in tPSA levels. These mixed results further solidify the need for more conclusive, wide-ranging research to determine if cycling definitively impacts PSA levels in men that contribute to their overall cancer risk. More questions still unanswered include whether the bike’s seat pad factors into prostate or testicular cancer risks.
An elevated PSA test does not always mean you have prostate cancer. It could also reflect that your prostate is enlarged, which is common, or it could signal an infection or inflammation. It’s important to note that men tend to have a small amount of PSA in their blood all the time, but large amounts may signal something is brewing. When cancer cells grow, PSA tends to spill over into the blood.
WATCH: Prostate cancer screening.
‘Coach Prime’ and Armstrong’s Known Health Struggles
Deion Sanders played for the National Football League for 14 years across multiple teams. Following his Hall of Fame professional career, he went into coaching college football. While playing on the gridiron poses many health risks, more recently, “Coach Prime” has dealt with blood clots. Earlier this year, Sanders underwent surgery for a blood clot in his left thigh in one leg and below his knee in the other. He also had two of his toes amputated in 2021 due to a blood clot, the Associated Press reports.
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Lance Armstrong’s Cancer Journey
Armstrong racked up several cycling victories during his professional career until an investigation by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency charged him with possessing and trafficking banned substances in October 2012. He was later banned from competing and stripped of his achievements. He admitted to the allegations in 2013.
Back when his cycling career was taking off in 1996, he was diagnosed with advanced-stage testicular cancer. He was just 25 years old at the time.
The cancer had spread to his lymph nodes, lungs, brain, and abdomen.
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Testicular cancer This rare cancer begins in the cells that make sperm. Fortunately for men with this kind of cancer, “it can be cured, even if diagnosed at an advanced stage,” according to the National Cancer Institute.
“Testicular cancer often presents with a painless mass in the testicle,” Dr. Bradley McGregor, the Clinical Director of the Lank Center for Genitourinary Oncology at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, previously told SurvivorNet.
“However, there may not always be a palpable mass, and it may just be a change in how a testicle feels or a heavy sensation,” Dr. McGregor continued.
Depending on the stage, the disease is considered highly treatable. Treatment options can include chemotherapy and radiation, but often, the first line of treatment is surgery to remove the testicle, which contains the cancerous cells.
Symptoms of testicular cancer can be subtle. Some people may even confuse the early symptoms, such as a small mass in their testicle, as an injury. But when these signs are dismissed, the cancer can grow and become worse.
On the 25th anniversary of his cancer diagnosis, he shared an Instagram post reflecting on his feelings and emotions during that time.
“I heard those dreadful words that millions of us have heard, ‘you have cancer,'” he wrote in a caption.
“I didn’t know if I would live 25 minutes, 25 hours, or 25 weeks. Truly blessed to have made it this far,” he continued.
He battled the cancer with a positive and determined mindset to return to cycling. He underwent chemotherapy for roughly two months, and he was declared cancer-free in 1997.
Men should regularly conduct self-exams of their testicles for anything unusual.
Questions for Your Doctor
If you are facing testicular cancer and want to understand your diagnosis better, consider the following questions for your doctor.
- Has my testicular cancer spread beyond the testicle?
- What stage is my cancer in?
- What other tests should I expect as I continue learning more about the disease?
- What are my treatment options?
- What side effects should I expect with the recommended treatment?