The results of a Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center study said using marijuana may increase a man’s risk of developing testicular cancer.
Researchers found that the male reproductive system produces a cannabinoid-like chemical that is thought to have a protective effect against cancer.
Marijuana may disrupt the body’s natural resistance to developing tumors, which could be a possible link between marijuana and testicular cancer.
According to the National Cancer Institute, testicular cancer is rare and accounts for only 1 percent of cancers in men from the U. S.
About 8,000 men are diagnosed with testicular cancer each year and about 390 die from the disease annually.
“In 2007, 183 males were charged with use of marijuana in the Auburn area,” said Lt. Tyrone Gulce of the Narcotics Division of the Public Safety Department. “In 2008, 226 males in the Auburn area were charged with marijuana use. There has been an increase in marijuana use in Auburn over the years.”
Gulce added that 130 males have been charged with possession of marijuana this year.
Researchers noted that the testes could be vulnerable to the effects of marijuana, because they, along with the brain, heart, uterus and spleen, carry specific receptors for tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the principal psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, said the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Web site.
“Testicular cancer tends to occur in younger men, so college males could be greatly affected by this,” said Stephen Schwartz, FHCRC researcher.
Testicular cancer is the most common form of cancer in men between the ages of 15 and 34.
“Caucasian men are at a higher risk of getting testicular cancer than African-American men,” Schwartz said. “Hispanic and Asian men are also less affected by the disease.”
Males between the ages 20 and 35 who develop nonseminoma, a fast growing testicular malignancy that causes germ cell tumors, account for about 40 percent of all testicular cancer cases.
“We found that men who had used marijuana for more than 10 years tend to be heavier users during the week,” Schwartz said. “Men who are more recent users still have the risk of nonseminoma, the less common, but harder to treat, testicular cancer.”
Schwartz also said men who have a father or brother who has testicular cancer are at risk.
Researchers also found that being a marijuana user at the time of diagnosis increased the risk of testicular cancer by 70 percent, according to a study by researchers at the FHCRC.
FHCRC researchers said, since the 1950s, occurrences of two cell subtypes of testicular cancer, nonseminoma and seminoma, have increased by 3 percent to 6 percent per year in the U. S.
Researchers also found that marijuana use also increased during the same time period.
The study showed that family history of the disease, undescended testes or abnormal testicular development can also cause cells to become cancerous.
Chronic marijuana use has multiple adverse effects on the endocrine and reproductive systems.
The results of the study also showed that male infertility, impotency and poor semen quality has been linked to an increased risk of testicular cancer.
The National Cancer Institute estimated there are about 8,400 new cases of testicular cancer in the U.S. this year. The estimated number of deaths is 380 so far for 2009.
There is no cure for the disease, but there are treatments like surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy and vaccine therapy.
There are also things men who might be pre-disposed to develop the disease can do to help prevent developing it.
“College males should do monthly testicular self-examinations, so they can detect any signs of cancer early,” said Fred Kam, medical director at the AU Clinic.
The National Cancer Institute, the National Institute on Drug Abuse and funds from the FHCRC supported this research.
“We conducted our research by interviewing men and giving them questionnaires to fill out,” Schwartz said. “Some of the questions involved dieting habits and their smoking history.”
The researchers said their results are not definite, but they are a way to open the door to more research questions and possible answers.
“We are still researching, and we have found genes that could be a possible cause of testicular cancer,” Schwartz said.
Kam said the most important thing is that all of the possible indications from long term- marijuana usage and its effects are still unknown.
And all the consequences have yet to be determined.
Schwartz said, unlike cigarette smoking, there’s been limited research on long- term risks of being a marijuana smoker so people just assume marijuana is safe.
Also they should think about what they put in their bodies because of the possible effect.
“Avoid the use of drugs because there are consequences, some of which are irreversible,” Kam said. “What may be enjoyed short-term may result in long-term detriment.”