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Is Prostate Cancer Really a Sexually Transmitted Disease?

Is Prostate Cancer Really a Sexually Transmitted Disease?

You probably can’t get away from the headlines this week claiming that prostate cancer is a sexually transmitted disease. Here’s the truth behind those claims.

The headlines are the result of a paper published by researchers from the University of California which found that an infection transmitted through unprotected sex appears to aid prostate cancer growth. HPV infection is a well-known cause for cervical cancer in women, but linking an infection to prostate cancer is relatively new territory, so what is going on here?

The infection in question is the non-viral Trichomoniasis, which is caused by a very small parasite. According to the CDC, it is the most common curable sexually transmitted infection in the world today. Men and women may not even know they have the parasite, and in about 50% of cases will show no symptoms.

That said, for women the infection can sometimes cause soreness and itching as well as vaginal discharge. For men who display symptoms, common problems include pain during urinating and a white discharge. In addition, the head of the penis and the prostate gland can become infected — and this is where prostate cancer may come into play.

Researchers in this latest study found the parasite that causes the infection generates a protein that, under lab tests, caused inflammation and increased benign and cancerous prostate cells. This isn’t the only study to show a possible link, either.

Research conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health in 2009 showed that around a quarter of men who had prostate cancer in their test group also had trichomoniasis. In addition, they were more likely to have advanced tumors, possibly indicating that trichomoniasis prompts more aggressive prostate cancer. Research in 2006 pointed to a similar result, but so far only a handful of studies have shown this link.

Does that mean that prostate cancer is sexually transmitted then? Of course not, and it’s very misleading to quote the scientists in the California study as saying that because, bluntly, they haven’t. What they have said is that more research is needed in this area because there is still no concrete evidence to show what might cause prostate cancers, and trichomoniasis infection could be a good sign-post for further exploration. Currently, there is no firm evidence for a link and even if there was, implying that prostate cancer is sexually transmitted is dubious to begin with — it would be the infection, not the cancer, that would cross during unprotected sexual contact.

Prostate cancer isn’t among the most fatal cancers and, if caught early, is highly treatable. Around 233,000 men are diagnosed every year in the United States. It’s estimated that in 2014 about 29,480 men will die due to developing prostate cancer. While prostate cancer can technically develop anytime during our later adult lives, it tends to affect those over 70.

Our best research suggests there is a genetic component to developing prostate cancer. What’s more, men who have relatives that have had breast cancer also seem at greater risk of developing prostate cancer, especially if those relatives were diagnosed under the age of 60. Scientists have already uncovered a number of genes that they believe predict a man’s risk of developing the disease, and there is also a link between prostate cancer and colon cancer. Of course, the usual lifestyle factors probably play their part, especially in the rising number of prostate cancer diagnoses.

If research does ultimately show that Trichomoniasis can trigger prostate cancer, scientists might then develop a vaccination campaign similar to that which is currently recommended for HPV/cervical cancer. They will also be able to screen more effectively for the infection and the likelihood of developing prostate cancer.

So, this new study is important as a guide for future research, but so is not believing the headlines which have hyped these findings and made them out to be something they are not.

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Photo credit: Thinkstock.

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75 comments

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10:55AM PDT on Jun 2, 2014

Thank you

2:03AM PDT on Jun 2, 2014

ty

7:21PM PDT on May 31, 2014

Thanks.

11:24PM PDT on May 28, 2014

Cancer is not quite an illness, it's a particular process occuring in a particular state. Simplyfying: cells mutate when their DNA gets damaged by toxins (and a few other things) and there's not enough building substances to build new, healthy cells. There's also a psychosomatic factor as the subconcious programs can really visibly manifest in the body in a long term.

I don't know why to make such a deal about cancer and create new thories while there's already a proper field of science to dig: cellular medicine. :)

Purify your body from toxins, feed it well, keep mental hygiene and... smile. :) And read more. ;)

3:50AM PDT on May 28, 2014

Great article thanks and very informative.

12:18AM PDT on May 28, 2014

News flash: tissue that has been fighting a low level infection for 20 years is more susceptible to cancer (or another infection!). Whoopdeedoo! This is one of those studies where the researchers were virtually sure of the results before they conducted it - but before you think it's not worth doing, some of the most interesting scientific discoveries occur when the expected results defy well informed common sense. They might have discovered that trich protects you from prostate cancer, and that would have been VERY worth knowing and might have led to a whole new area of cancer research.

On the really bright side, now that an STD has become associated with an increased risk for a cancer that often leads to impotence, maybe Joe Six Pack will start paying attention to all the valiant efforts of the GOP to close the very places where poor and young women tend to go to get such conditions treated!

9:14PM PDT on May 27, 2014

interesting?

9:08PM PDT on May 27, 2014

Would too much sex give you prostate cancer?

8:29PM PDT on May 27, 2014

Thanks

6:56PM PDT on May 27, 2014

Thanks for the post.

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