For the study on marijuana use and testicular-cancer risk, Drs. Janet Daling and Stephen Schwartz and colleagues interviewed 369 Seattle-Puget Sound-area men, ages 18 to 44, who had been diagnosed with testicular cancer about their history of marijuana use. For comparison purposes they also assessed marijuana use among 979 randomly selected age- and geography-matched healthy controls. (More than 90 percent of the cases and 80 percent of the controls in the study were Hispanic or non-Hispanic white men, due to the fact that testicular cancer is very rare in African Americans, and because the Seattle-Puget Sound region has a relatively small African American population.)
Study participants were also asked about other habits that may be correlated with marijuana use, including smoking and alcohol consumption. Even after statistically controlling for these lifestyle factors, as well as other risk factors, such as first-degree family history of testicular cancer and a history of undescended testes, marijuana use emerged as a significant, independent risk factor for testicular cancer.
“Our study is the first inkling that marijuana use may be associated with testicular cancer, and we still have a lot of unanswered questions,” Schwartz said, such as why marijuana appears to be associated with only one type of testicular cancer.
“We need to conduct additional research to see whether the association can be observed in other populations, and whether measurement of molecular markers connected to the pathways through which marijuana could influence testicular cancer development helps clarify any association that exists,” he said.
In the meantime, Schwartz said, “What young men should know is that 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,” he said. “So, in the absence of more certain information, a decision to smoke marijuana recreationally means that one is taking a chance on one’s future health."
In future studies, the researchers plan to measure the expression of cannabinoid receptors in both seminomatous and nonseminomatous tumor tissue from the cases in the study, and to see whether variation in the genes for the receptors and other molecules involved in cannabinoid signaling influences the risk of testicular cancer.
According to the National Cancer Institute, testicular cancer is very rare, accounting for only 1 percent of cancers in U.S. men. About 8,000 men are diagnosed with testicular cancer each year, and about 390 die of the disease annually. It is the most common form of cancer in men between the ages of 15 and 34 and is most common in white men, especially those of Scandinavian descent.