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Cancerous cannabis?

Marijuana users may find it hard to be mellow when they read this. A study done by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center (FHCRC) in Seattle suggests a link between marijuana use and an aggressive form of testicular cancer — something that could be startling to college males going through experimental phases.

FHCRC researchers interviewed 371 men with testicular cancer between the ages of 18 and 44 across three counties in Washington. They interviewed an additional 979 men of the same age groups and in the same locations who had not been diagnosed.

In the interviews, they divided the men into the following categories: never used, former users and current users. Those who admitted to smoking marijuana were asked how frequently they smoked and how long they had been doing so. The researchers found that in each category, the percentage of frequency was higher for those who had been diagnosed.

According to FHCRC’s report published Feb. 9, smoking marijuana is associated with a 70 percent increased risk of testicular cancer. Just like the brain, a man’s testicles have receptors for tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — the mind-altering ingredient in marijuana. The FHCRC concluded that “the risk was particularly elevated for those who used marijuana at least weekly and/or who had long-term exposure to the substance beginning in adolescence.”

According to the National Cancer Institute, testicular cancer accounts for one percent of cancer in men in America. Every year, about 8,000 men are diagnosed, and 380 die from it. The institute states that the chances a man will get this disease in his lifetime are one in 300, or 0.3 percent. The FHCRC report indicates that the odds increase with marijuana use.

However, the report on FHCRC’s Web site states that these specific findings are not definitive. While this study is based on the steady increase of both marijuana use and testicular cancer in America, its research only shows a link  between marijuana use and nonseminoma cancer — the rarest form.

A student who requested anonymity said that because of a contradiction such as this, the report’s findings have little to no effect on his lifestyle decisions.

“It is hard to take a study like this seriously if their initial claim isn’t really supported by what they discover,” he said. “The U.S. has seen an increase in both forms and they only link it to one, not to mention the rarer one.”

Dr. Mayer Fishman of the Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute presented a hypothetical situation in which the men in the study completely stopped smoking marijuana.

“Given that there have only been six deaths in recent years due to testes cancer in this area, of which some were non-smokers, at best maybe one to two people would be saved over a seven-year period,” Fishman said. 

He said that while smokers should take this information with a grain of salt, they should not be too quick to burn it.

“The key issue about this is that we’d like to keep testes cancer awareness up — we routinely see college and high school kids with it,”
Fishman said.

He went on to say that male students, who he referred to as “great procrastinators,” should not hesitate to ask about and check for testicular cancer. He urges them to do so because the earlier it is caught, the easier it is to treat.

Other risk factors

Undescended testicle
A condition called cryptorchidism, or undescended testicle, is common in about 10 percent of testicular cancer cases. Testicles are supposed to develop inside the abdomen of the fetus and make their way to the scrotum before birth. However, this fails to occur in three percent of boys.

Experts in the U.S. recommend that orchiopexy, a procedure to lower the misplaced testicle, be done soon after the child’s first birthday.

Family history

If a man has the disease, there is an increased risk that someone in his family will develop it. Though only three percent of testicular cancer cases are found to occur among family members, research has shown that the disease could be passed on to one’s child.

HIV infection
Evidence has shown that men infected with HIV, particularly those with AIDS, are at increased risk. These results are from newer studies that have not yet been proven, but it is the only infection to be linked to testicular cancer
thus far.

Of the cases recorded in the past two decades, 90 percent of  testicular cancer patients are between the ages of 20 and 54. However, experts stress regular check-ups for people of all ages as the disease has been found in patients at all stages of life.

Research obtained from the American Cancer Society.