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Marijuana Use a Risk Factor for Testicular Cancer

According to a recent study by researchers from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, frequent or long-term use of marijuana can increase the risk of developing testicular cancer in its most aggressive form. The findings of the research were published in this month’s issue of the journal Cancer.

The study found that marijuana smoking increases the risk of testicular cancer by 70 percent. It was more pronounced among those who used cannabis at least once weekly or those who have been exposed to the substance since their adolescent years. The results of the study also suggest “that the association with marijuana use might be limited to nonseminoma, a fast-growing testicular malignancy.” The cancer is known to strike at an early age – usually between the ages of 20 and 35 – and also accounts for at least 40 percent of all cases of this type of cancer.

According to lead author and epidemiologist Stephen M. Schwartz, MPH, PhD of the Public Health Sciences Division of the Hutchinson Center, while this study is not the first to suggest that environmental factors can affect risk of testicular cancer, it is the first one that actually focused on marijuana use.

Risk factors for this cancer include family history, abnormal testicular development and undescended testes. Previous research suggest that the condition may begin in the womb and later manifests during adolescence and adulthood as the fetal germ cells are exposed to sex hormones which can make them cancerous.

“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 and environmental factors also can increase the risk of testicular cancer,” says senior author Janet Daling, PhD, another epidemiologist from the same division. “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 age 18.”

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