Cycling is a rewarding physical activity with numerous health benefits. Cycling provides an aerobic exercise adaptable to the fitness level of the cyclist. However, even cycling carries potential long-term risks, particularly when riders spend hours on stiff, narrow seats. A popular misconception has developed that testicular cancer is one of these risks, although no studies have demonstrated such a link.
Testicular cancer typically affects men between the ages of 20 and 39. The disease results in tumors in one or both of the testicles. Testicular cancer only accounts for about 1 percent of all cancer diagnoses in men. White men of Scandinavian descent are the most likely to suffer from this disease. For reasons unknown, testicular cancer is significantly less common in the African-American population. With early detection and aggressive treatment, the odds of recovery from the disease are excellent.
Testicular Cancer and Cycling
Doctors don't believe that competitive cycling is a risk factor for testicular cancer. The fact that legendary cyclist Lance Armstrong battled the disease may have fueled the myth linking the sport with the cancer, according to Matt Seaton, the bicycling columnist at "The Guardian" newspaper in Great Britain. Cancer arises from genetic mutations in the DNA of individual cells. Competitive cycling, while possibly abusive to the testicles, does not affect them on the cellular level. Casual riders should have even less to worry about. A few hours a week spent in the saddle are unlikely to have any adverse effects.
Risk Factors for Testicular Cancer
The main risk factor for testicular cancer is being a member of the demographic group most typically afflicted: young, white men. Genetics also play a role, as having a family history of testicular cancer increases your own risk. Having a testicle that has not descended into the scrotum is another risk factor. All males should perform a self-examination on their testicles once a month. Any abnormalities, lumps, or changes in texture should be reported to a doctor. Early detection is critical with cancer. When treated properly, testicular cancer has a survival rate of more than 95 percent.
Health Problems from Cycling
While testicular cancer has not been linked with cycling, several other serious health problems may result from long hours spent on an ill-fitting seat. Research has shown that an uncomfortable saddle combined with high amounts of riding may lead to infertility. This includes low sperm counts and erectile dysfunction. Another risk of intensive cycling is bone weakness. Since cycling produces less mechanical loading on the bones than many other activities such as running, the bones are not as stimulated to increase their mineral density. Exercise physiologists recommend that avid cyclists incorporate cross-training into their workout routines to encourage bone growth.
- MedLine Plus: Testicular Cancer; August 2011
- National Cancer Institute: Testicular Cancer
- Sean Kimerling Testicular Cancer Foundation: Self Exam and Diagnosis
- "The New York Times"; Serious Riders, Your Bicycle Seat May Affect Your Love Life; Sandra Blakeslee; October 2005
- "The Los Angeles Times"; Cyclists at Risk for Bone Loss; Jeannine Stein; February 2009
- "The Guardian"; Two Wheels; Matt Seaton; April 2007