An as-yet unexplored concept regarding the timing of cannabis exposure is the period during prenatal and early childhood development. Best current evidence suggests that TC predisposition is determined prenatally; thus, it is possible that those who positively identify as current, chronic cannabis users are also more likely to have been exposed to cannabis during perinatal and/or early childhood development. In other words, it is possible that primary cannabis use could be a proxy for second-hand exposure to cannabis during the prenatal and/or early childhood period. Such exposure would be congruent with a pre-adulthood disruption to the hypothalamic-pituitary-testicular axis, albeit via a secondary rather than primary source. However this association remains speculative and further research is required regarding the role of non-primary exposure to cannabis during the prenatal and early childhood period as a risk factor for the development of TGCT.
Using meta-analysis techniques, we observed that a) current, b) chronic, and c) frequent cannabis use is associated with the development of TGCT, when compared to never-use of the drug. The strongest association was found for non-seminoma development – for example, those using cannabis on at least a weekly basis had two and a half times greater odds of developing a non-seminoma TGCT compared those who never used cannabis (OR: 2.59, 95 % CI 1.60–4.19). We found inconclusive evidence regarding the relationship between cannabis use and the development of seminoma tumours. It must be noted that these observations were derived from three studies all conducted in the United States; and the majority of data collection occurred during the 1990’s.
In terms of heterogeneity, a high level of agreement between studies was found – with I 2 values of 0 % observed for most exposure variables (Fig. 2b-d). A notable exception was the ever-use variable (Fig. 2a), for which I 2 values ranged between 59 % (non-seminoma tumour type) and 71 % (combined tumour types).
The cannabis plant has been ingested or inhaled by humans for more than 4000 years . In the 2014 United Nations World Drug Report, it was estimated that some 178 million 15–64 year-olds worldwide use cannabis at least once per year – making it the most consumed illicit drug by a factor of five . Substantial variability in the consumption of cannabis has been observed between (and within) populations – with prevalence considerably higher in the Americas, Europe and Oceania compared to Asia and Africa .
In order to summarise the current evidence regarding the strength of association between cannabis exposure and testicular cancer, a systematic review and meta-analysis of the literature were undertaken. The review was performed in accordance with the Meta-analysis of Observational Studies in Epidemiology (MOOSE) guidelines .
For all three studies, exposure to cannabis was measured using self-report – either during a face-to-face interview [8, 9] or on a written questionnaire . According to the Newcastle-Ottawa Scale, one of the optimum mechanisms to measure exposure – and ostensibly minimise risk of information bias – is via a structured interview, where the interviewer is blinded to the case/control status of the participant. There is no record in any of the included studies that the interviewers were blinded to the status of the participant. The importance of this is that we do not whether (and to what extent) the association between cannabis exposure and TC was affected by interviewer bias (i.e., the interviewer knowing the case/control status of the participant, and inadvertently leading the participant toward certain answers). However, it would seem unlikely that interviewer bias could explain all or even some of the observed associations between cannabis use and TGCT development; for example, it is difficult to imagine a scenario where knowledge of case/control status would cause interviewers to inadvertently lead those with non-seminoma tumours toward one response, and those with seminoma tumours to another.
Each of the included studies derived their controls from the community, although one study used the friend of cases as controls , which may have reduced the representativeness of the control sample in that study. All controls had no history of testicular cancer. Each of the studies measured cannabis exposure in the same way (via self-report), although one asked about hashish exposure specifically as well as cannabis. For those studies in which person-to-person interview was conducted [8, 9], there is no record that interviewers were blinded as to the case/control status of the participant.
References were collected and logged in EndNote vX7.1 (Thomson Reuters, New York, U.S.A.). Duplicate records were removed prior to further analysis. Abstracts were screened by one reviewer (JG) to remove irrelevant studies, with a 10 % random sample of these verified by a second reviewer (VS). Any disagreements about inclusion were resolved by referral to a third reviewer (DS). The full text of all remaining papers was obtained and assessed by two reviewers (JG and VS) to identify those which met our inclusion criteria.
Thus, our meta-analyses suggest that a strong association exists between TGCT development and current, chronic and/or frequent cannabis use – particularly non-seminoma development –when compared to those who have never used cannabis.
"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.
The researchers found that being a marijuana smoker at the time of diagnosis was associated with a 70 percent increased risk of testicular cancer. The risk was particularly elevated (about twice that of those who never smoked marijuana) for those who used marijuana at least weekly and/or who had long-term exposure to the substance beginning in adolescence.
For the population-based, case-control study, Daling, 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.)
SEATTLE — February 9 — Frequent and/or long-term marijuana use may significantly increase a man’s risk of developing the most aggressive type of testicular cancer, according to a study by researchers at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. The study results were published online Feb. 9 in the journal Cancer.
Since the 1950s, the incidence of the two main cellular subtypes of testicular cancer, nonseminoma and seminoma – the more common, slower growing kind that strikes men in their 30s and 40s – has increased by 3 percent to 6 percent per year in the U.S., Canada, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. During the same time period, marijuana use in North America, Europe and Australia has risen accordingly, which is one of several factors that led the researchers to hypothesize a potential association.
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.
Daling first got the idea to explore a possible association between marijuana use and testicular cancer about eight years ago, when she attended a talk by a physician at the University of Washington who presented findings that only two organs, the brain and the testes, had receptors for tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the main psychoactive component of marijuana. Since then, a number of other sites have been found to contain THC receptors, including the heart, uterus, spleen and immune-system cells.
"Our study is not the first to suggest that some aspect of a man’s lifestyle or environment is a risk factor for testicular cancer, but it is the first that has looked at marijuana use," said author Stephen M. Schwartz, M.P.H., Ph.D., an epidemiologist and member of the Public Health Sciences Division at the Hutchinson Center.
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.