Health effects of marijuana include risk of testicular cancer
The use of marijuana may be linked to a higher risk of testicular cancer according to a new study from the University of Southern California (USC), published in the journal Cancer this week. The findings show men with a history of recreational marijuana use were twice as likely to develop more dangerous types of testicular tumors, confirming previous research that pointed to this association.
Accordingly, the study recommends caution when using marijuana for therapeutic purposes in young male patients. Two prescriptions drugs based on marijuana compounds have been approved by the FDA in the United States. They are used to treat chemotherapy-related symptoms such as nausea and vomiting, as well as severe weight loss in AIDS patients, when conventional treatments fail. Canada and some European countries have approved other marijuana-based prescription drugs for pain.
Recreational drugs and cancer
In this case-control study by the USC, that compares a group of 163 men with testicular cancer to a similar group of 292 healthy men, participants were asked about recreational drug use. California researchers found those men who reported marijuana use had a two-fold increased risk of testicular tumors and, more specifically, of having the subtypes called non-seminoma and mixed-cell. These types of testicular cancer tend to affect younger men and are more difficult to treat, requiring chemotherapy.
The author, Victoria K. Cortessis, PHD, assistant professor of preventive medicine at USC, based this study on previous research that suggests the active ingredient in marijuana interferes with hormone signaling between the brain and the testicles. However, additional research is required to confirm this process and to prove a definite association of the marijuana use and testicular cancer.
Incidentally, a negative link was found in this study between a history of cocaine use and these types of cancer. Dr. Cortessis offers a possible explanation in the fact that cocaine destroys sperm-producing germ cells, as it is known to happen in animals. Cocaine may lead to infertility but it may also kill cells, including cancerous ones, before they even develop cancer, which would explain the lower incidence of testicular tumors among cocaine users. This seems to be the first study to reveal such an association.
Testicular cancer: the facts
Testicular is the most common type of cancer diagnosed among men ages 15 to 45.
The rising incidence of testicular cancer in the past decades, which researchers are still unable to explain, may be the result of environmental causes, including recreational marijuana use.
According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), some 8,600 men will be diagnosed with this cancer in the United States during 2012. Testicular cancer is one of the most curable forms of cancer, easy to treat when caught early.
The National Cancer Institute (NCI) statistics show five-year survival rates for localized tumors as high as 99 percent. Hispanic men have a lower incidence of testicular cancer compared to non-Hispanic white men, but higher than African Americans and other minorities. However death rates for testicular cancer are equal for Hispanics and non-Hispanic white men, and higher than other ethnic groups. The reason for this disparity is yet unknown.
The pesticide DDT has also been associated in the past with a higher risk of testicular cancer. While DDT is banned in the U.S. since 1973, traces can still be detected in a majority of Americans according to doctors at the NCI.
Byproducts of DDT persist in the environment and can accumulate in human fat tissue. This pesticide is used to this day in other countries for malaria control.