Buds & Balls: Know Your Risk
by Samantha Jones
As we enter the last few weeks of November, moustaches are growing thick and recreational cannabis use has been legal in Canada for a little over a month. With the new legalization of marijuana across Canada, the government has been working hard to make sure that citizens know their risks of using cannabis. In Ontario, marijuana is available for purchase online at the Ontario Cannabis Store (OCS) website. In addition to selling cannabis, the website also provides information about the anatomy of cannabis, how it works, and how to lower one’s risk for health issues associated with cannabis use. Although mental health risks are some of the most widely discussed problems associated with cannabis use, there are also concerns with physical health repercussions, with several studies finding a possible link between cannabis use and different types of cancers. Given that it is Movember (an event that aims to raise awareness to men’s health issues) and cannabis has been recently legalized in Canada, I thought this would be a perfect time to discuss recent research findings of a possible association between cannabis use and testicular cancer.
Testicular cancer occurs when there is abnormal growth of cells in one or both testicles.The most common form of testicular cancer involves a testicular germ cell tumour, which results from abnormal germ cells (in this case, specialized cells that give rise to sperm) in the testicles Certain biological factors such as having an undescended testicle or one that did not descend normally, family history of testicular cancer, and age may influence one’s risk. Testicular cancer is most often diagnosed in young males ages 15-35 years old. Interestingly, in Canada, cannabis use is most common in young males aged 15-24 years old. Thus, it is important to acknowledge and examine whether there is a potential association between cannabis use and testicular cancer.
A meta-analysis looking at previous studies examined cannabis use factors and their possible connections with testicular cancer. Several cannabis use behaviours were found to be correlated with an increased risk for developing testicular cancer involving a germ cell tumour. It was found that current cannabis use, using cannabis at least once a week, and long-term cannabis use (i.e. over 10 years) were related to a higher risk of of developing a testicular germ cell tumor.
More recently, a longitudinal study looked at cannabis use and the incidence of a variety of forms of testicular cancer. Male participants were first recruited and studied in 1970 when they were between the ages of 18-21. Cannabis use was assessed in 1970, then incidence of testicular cancer was measured 42 years later in 2011. Similar to other studies, the results showed that testicular cancer seemed to be most often diagnosed in young men (specifically, ages 25 to 40). Researchers found that “heavy” cannabis use - defined as more than 50 times in a lifetime in 1970 – was significantly related to subsequent testicular cancer diagnosis. In other words, men who displayed “heavy” cannabis use between the ages of 18-21 had a higher risk of having testicular cancer later in life when compared to those with no or little cannabis use.
Research on the association between cannabis use and testicular cancer is limited since it is correlational, and more studies should be done to investigate this potential link. However, it is important to take note that certain factors of cannabis use are significantly related to the development of testicular cancer. In the spirit of Movember, I urge you all to know your risks and for those who may be affected to check your testicles at least once a month. More information on how to properly check yourself is available at the Movember website.