Recreational marijuana use may increase the risk of developing subtypes of testicular cancer that have a worse prognosis, according to the results of a study published early online in the journal Cancer.
Testicular cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed among young men ages 15 to 45. The testicles are located inside the scrotum (a sac of loose skin that lies directly under the penis). Testicular cancer—also called germ cell cancer—occurs in the tissues of one or both testicles. Testicular cancers are relatively rare but highly curable. The incidence of testicular cancer is on the rise—in fact, the rate of testicular cancer doubled in the United States between 1975 and 2002.
The cause of testicular cancer is poorly understood. Developed countries have a higher prevalence of the disease than undeveloped countries, which suggests that environmental factors may be involved. An increased incidence of testicular cancer has been associated with early puberty, testicular trauma, cigarette and marijuana smoking, and exposure to toxic substances such as lead.
Researchers from the University of Southern California examined the link between recreational drug use and cancer. The study included 163 men diagnosed with testicular cancer in Los Angeles County between 1986 and 1991 and 292 healthy controls matched on age, race/ethnicity, and neighborhood. Participants responded to questions about drug use during structured, in-person interviews.
The researchers found that men with a history of marijuana use had twice the risk of testicular cancer compared to those who had never used the drug. What’s more—marijuana use appeared to be linked to higher rates of subtypes of testicular cancer called non-seminoma and mixed germ cell cancer, which carry a worse prognosis than seminoma testicular cancer.
The reasons for the link are unclear and research will likely be ongoing to further examine the relationship between marijuana and testicular cancer. In the meantime, the results suggest that men who are inclined to use marijuana—either recreationally or therapeutically—should consider the potential cancer risk.
Lacson JCA, Carroll JD, Tuazon E, et al. Population-based case-control study of recreational drug use and testis cancer risk confirms an association between marijuana use and nonseminoma risk. Cancer. Published early online September 10, 2012. DOI: 10.1002/cncr.27554
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