Smoking cannabis increases testicular cancer risk

Men who regularly smoke cannabis increase their risk of developing testicular cancer, according to a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

A team of researchers in the United States found a link between long-term use of cannabis and the development of testicular germ cell tumors. Men with long-term cannabis use were 36 percent more likely to develop testicular cancer than those who did not use the drug.

Association Between Marijuana Use and Risk of Cancer. Image Credit: Shutterstock
Association Between Marijuana Use and Risk of Cancer. Image Credit: Shutterstock

The new study contradicts previous claims that cannabis or marijuana can treat or prevent cancer. The research team performed a meta-analysis of previous studies, which involved any probable link between urogenital, lung, head, and neck and other cancers, and using cannabis.

To arrive at their findings, the researchers identified 25-English language studies that assessed cannabis use and the risk of developing other types of cancers. In the study, they found that regular marijuana use contributed to men developing testicular germ cell tumors, although the strength of the evidence was low. Moreover, evidence of other cancers was insufficient.

“Low-strength evidence suggests that smoking marijuana is associated with developing TGCT; its association with other cancers and the consequences of higher levels of use are unclear. Long-term studies in marijuana-only smokers would improve understanding of marijuana’s association with lung, oral, and other cancers,” the researchers concluded in the study.

The team specifically found that using marijuana was not tied to oral cancer and head and neck squamous cell carcinoma. Further, in a pooled analysis of three case-control studies, the long-term use of marijuana for more than ten years was linked to testicular cancer.

Cannabis use

Marijuana or cannabis is the most widely used illicit substance in the United States, with about half of adults reporting using it in their lifetime. The rates of using marijuana are steadily increasing with use among young adults doubling from 10.5 percent in 2002 to a staggering 21.2 percent in 2014. The main route of marijuana use is still smoking.

The increasing use of marijuana rates, specifically among young adults, raises concerns regarding whether cannabis use increases the risk of developing cancer. Through the years, cannabis use has been accepted in some parts of the world. However, there remains scarce information on the link between the drug and health, including the development of cancer.

Marijuana poses many health benefits, which many studies claim, but its negative health effects have not been established. The study is just one to pinpoint the possible causative relationship between cannabis and cancer.

What is testicular cancer?

Testicular cancer occurs in the testicles or testes, which are found in the scrotum. The testes are responsible for producing male sex hormones and sperm cells, which are needed for reproduction.

Though testicular cancer is uncommon, it is the most common type of cancer diagnosed in men between 15 and 49 years old. About half of those who are diagnosed every year with this type of cancer are below 35 years old.

The good thing is, testicular cancer is rare and accounts for only 1 percent of cancer diagnoses in men. Plus, it’s easily treatable and has a good prognosis.

The common signs and symptoms of testicular cancer include a lump or enlargement in either testicle, pain, and discomfort in the scrotum, a dull ache in the groin or abdominal area, a feeling of heaviness in the scrotum, back pain, and a sudden collection of fluid in the scrotum.

Doctors treat testicular cancer just like any other cancer in the body – through chemotherapy, surgery, radiation, and in some cases, stem-cell transplant.

Testicular cancer has no known cause, but health experts and scientists found that the illness is tied to several other conditions, such as a family history of testicular cancer, HIV infection, and an undescended testicle, among others.

The best treatment for cancer is early detection. Detecting cancer early, when it’s still small and before it has spread, allows for more treatment options and better prognosis.

Journal reference:

Ghasemiesfe M, Barrow B, Leonard S, Keyhani S, Korenstein D. Association Between Marijuana Use and Risk of Cancer: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. JAMA Netw Open. 2019;2(11):e1916318. doi: https://doi.org/10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2019.16318

Angela Betsaida B. Laguipo

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Angela Betsaida B. Laguipo

Angela is a nurse by profession and a writer by heart. She graduated with honors (Cum Laude) for her Bachelor of Nursing degree at the University of Baguio, Philippines. She recently completed a Master's Degree where she specialized in Maternal and Child Nursing and is now working as a clinical instructor and educator in the School of Nursing at the University of Baguio.

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