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How Marijuana Use May Lead To Testicular Cancer

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

Young men with long-term history of frequent marijuana use seem to have twice the risk of developing an aggressive form of testicular cancer. Researchers have seen a small but steady increase in two forms of testicular cancer, nonseminoma and seminoma, beginning in the 1950's. Scientists, in an effort to discover a possible link between testicular cancer and marijuana use, also found a correlation between increased marijuana use that parallels increases in testicular cancer.

The above observations have lead researchers at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center to investigate the possible correlation between marijuana use and testicular cancer. Stephen M. Schwartz, M.P.H., Ph.D., an epidemiologist and member of the Public Health Sciences Division at the Hutchinson Center, explains, "Our study is not the first to suggest that some aspect of a man's lifestyle or environment is a risk factor for testicular cancer, but it is the first that has looked at marijuana use."

The scientists speculate that family history, combined with hormonal changes that take place with marijuana use may lead to testicular cancer. The study authors also say that marijuana users have been noted to possess decreased sperm quality, an indication that chronic marijuana use affects the endocrine and reproductive system adversely. Some disruption might occur that destroys the protective effect of natural defenses against tumors in men who smoke marijuana, leading to the increased risk of testicular cancer.

In addition, THC receptors are found in the testicles, brain, immune system, heart uterus and spleen, also a possible explanation related to the research findings that marijuana use may increase the chances of developing testicular cancer.

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In order to reach their conclusions, interviews were conducted with 369 men from the Seattle-Puget Sound-area. The men were between 18 to 44 years old, and diagnosed with testicular cancer. The researchers found that nonseminoma-type testicular cancer was especially linked with, marijuana use prior to age 18. They also selected 979 men from the same geographic location, in good health, Hispanic and non-Hispanic.

Janet R. Daling, Ph.D., an epidemiologist who is also a member of the Center's Public Health Sciences Division who authored the study says, "Just as the changing hormonal environment of adolescence and adulthood can trigger undifferentiated fetal germ cells to become cancerous, it has been suggested that puberty is a 'window of opportunity' during which lifestyle or environmental factors also can increase the risk of testicular cancer."

The final analysis, after adjusting for other lifestyle factors and family history, still showed a significant link between testicular cancer and marijuana use. The research also suggests that smoking marijuana may be limited to the development of nonseminoma testicular cancer, which strikes younger men and spreads rapidly.

Though the study results are not conclusive…" in the absence of more certain information, a decision to smoke marijuana recreationally means that one is taking a chance on one's future health," warns Dr. Schwartz. The link found between marijuana and testicular cancer warrants further investigation.

Source: fhcrc.org