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Testicular cancer linked to marijuana use

11th September 2012

Men who have smoked marijuana may be at increased risk of testicular cancer, according to researchers in the United States.

cannabis1The study, published in the journal Cancer, found that men who reported having smoked the drug were twice as likely to get the more aggressive form of testicular cancer, which is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in men under 45.

Rates of testicular cancer have been on the rise in recent years, and scientists suspect that an environmental factor may be to blame.

According to Scott Eggener, a cancer surgeon at the University of Chicago, such a factor has yet to be conclusively identified.

However, the current study is the third to establish some sort of link between cannabis smoking and the disease.

Researchers studied 163 men who had been diagnosed with testicular cancer between the ages of 18 and 36, comparing them to 292 healthy men who were closely matched for age and ethnicity.

The men who reported having ever smoked cannabis were more than twice as likely to have the more aggressive form of testicular tumours, compared with men who had never smoked it.

The link held even when independent factors like a history of undescended testicle, were controlled for.

Meanwhile, men who had used cocaine managed to halve their risk of getting the disease, compared with people who had never used it.

Researchers said this was not a result of any health benefit conferred by cocaine use; rather that cocaine caused severe damage to testicular tissue.

According to researcher Victoria Cortessis, assistant professor of preventive medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC in Los Angeles, animal studies have shown that cocaine has a devastating effect on men's testicles, making them gradually smaller and smaller.

She said the cocaine destroyed so much testicular tissue that it made testicular cancer far less likely.

However, researchers said the risk of getting testicular cancer among men who have used marijuana should not trigger panic, as it translated to a 1-in-200 risk of the disease among white males under 35, compared to a 1-in-400 risk of the disease in men of similar age and ethnicity who had never smoked it.

The study does not actually show a causal link between the use of cannabis and testicular cancer, either, they cautioned.

There were many inconsistencies within the research results, including the finding that men who currently smoked marijuana, or who had smoked a lot of it over time, were less at risk of testicular cancer than those who reported lighter habits, or who had previously smoked it but given up.

Previous, larger studies have suggested that cancer risk increases with the size of a man’s pot-smoking habit, so it is possible that the current study sample was too small for that relationship to become apparent.

The factors accounting for the link between cannabis use and testicular cancer remain unclear.

One of the active ingredients in marijuana, THC, has a disruptive effect on the body's endocrine system, which uses hormones to send signals about the environment and to regulate metabolic processes.

This link is a possible avenue for further research, to determine whether the hormonal disruption triggers cancerous growth in testicular cells.

According to Stephen M. Schwartz, an epidemiologist at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, marijuana users run a series of health risks, suggesting the drug may be more harmful than some people currently believe.

Schwartz, who was not involved in the current study, said that the link between testicular cancer and cannabis was now fairly clear, and that people should pay attention to it.


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