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Cannabis And The Link To Testicular Cancer


Tuesday, February 10th, 2009 Cannabis And The Link To Testicular Cancer

It has been suggested that regular or long term use of cannabis may raise a man’s risk of testicular cancer according to the BBC and Jeremy Laurance of the Independent (09 02 09).

Notably, testicular cancer has more than doubled over the last thirty years. The American researchers findings were that those regularly taking cannabis doubled their risk of developing the cancer to those who have never smoked the drug.

Moreover the results suggest that it may be linked to the most aggressive form of the cancer. The study is based on findings from 369 men with testicular cancer who were questioned about their history of cannabis use. The results were compared with 979 men who did not have cancer. Cannabis was linked with testicular cancer independently of smoking, drinking and family history.

Significantly, a spokesman for Cancer Research UK said that no previous studies had found a link between marijuana and the disease. However what does require some consideration is the fact that the study used a small sample. Henry Scowcroft, from Cancer Research UK, said, “So before we can reach any firm conclusions about whether this is a cause-and-effect relationship, rather than a statistical blip, the result needs to be replicated in a much larger study.”

According to Laurance’s report, More than three million people smoke cannabis and only a tiny proportion develop the cancer.

Nevertheless, testicular cancer is one of the most common cancers in younger men, with approximately 2,000 new cases each year in the UK.

Incidence in Europe and North America is far higher than in some other parts of the world, and has been rising steadily for no apparent reason.

The results, published today in the journal Cancer, showed a link between cannabis use and one type of testicular cancer, called nonseminoma, which is aggressive, tends to strike younger men and accounts for 40 per cent of testicular cancer.

Stephen Schwartz, an epidemiologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre in Seattle, Washington, who led the research, said: “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.”

There were 2,109 cases of testicular cancer in Britain in 2005 and 78 deaths. In 1975 there were 850 cases. Unlike other cancers, it is most common in young men with a peak incidence between the ages of 20 and 40.

Hitherto, the more common and slower growing type called seminoma, was not linked with cannabis use.

Known risk factors for the cancer include previous injuries to the testicles, a family history of the disease, or suffering from undescended testicles as a young child.

The disease is thought to begin in the womb when germ cells in the foetus (those that will eventually make sperm in the adult) fail to develop properly. Exposure to male hormones in adolescence is thought to trigger development of cancer in the affected cells. Chronic cannabis use is known to reduce sperm quality and increase impotence, which are linked with testicular cancer.

The testes have receptors for tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, and the male reproductive system is known to naturally produce a cannabinoid-like chemical that is thought to protect against the disease.

The researchers speculate that cannabis may interfere with this anti-tumour effect, increasing the risk of the cancer developing.

Dr Janet Daling, one of the authors, said that puberty might be a “window of opportunity” during which boys were more vulnerable to environmental factors such as the chemicals in marijuana.

“This is consistent with the study’s findings that the elevated risk of nonseminoma-type testicular cancer in particular was associated with marijuana use prior to 18,” she said.

Another research, Dr Stephen Schwartz, said: “What young men should know is first, we know very little about the long-term health consequences of marijuana smoking, especially heavy marijuana smoking, and second, our study provides some evidence that testicular cancer could be one adverse consequence.”

The next step, he said, would be to look more closely at cells in the testicles to see if any of them had receptors set up to respond to cannabis chemicals.

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