Testicular Cancer – Men’s Health, Marijuana Use, and Testicular Self Exam
One of every 273 male babies born this year will be diagnosed with testicular cancer in their lifetime. This makes it a form of cancer that could be classed as “not that common” however, since it is the commonest cancer affecting young men between 20 and 39 years old it is a significant disease where men’s health is concerned.
The exact cause of testicular cancer is not known but there are several risk factors that are correlated with the development of the disease. A risk factor simply means that if this factor is present in your life then your chances of developing testicular cancer go up. However, there are still cases of men who have these risk factors who do not develop the disease and of course there are known cases of men diagnosed with testicular cancer who do not have the risk factors.
Risk Factors for Testicular Cancer
The most significant risk factors for developing testicular cancer appear to be genetics and pathologies that affect the testicles.
- Genetics – if a brother or father has testicular cancer your risk goes up
- Racial and ethnic background – there is a significantly higher risk in some races including Caucasians and Hispanics
- Undescended testicle – in men who have an undescended testicle the risk of developing testicular cancer goes up significantly especially if the condition is not surgically corrected by age 11.
- Mumps orchitis – men who have had the complication of the mumps virus that affects the testicles are also at an increased risk
Other Risk Factors – Breaking News
A recent study has linked marijuana use with the development of testicular cancer. Even after controlling for lifestyle factors and other known risks the men in the study, aged 18-34, who were marijuana users had a 70% higher risk of testicular cancer than men in the control group. There was also a correlation between an early age of onset of pot use and length of pot use with the development of testicular cancer.
The exact mechanism of this correlation is not known however, it is believed the testes are particularly sensitive to the psychoactive substance in marijuana (THC or tetrahydrocannabinol) and that THC disrupts certain naturally occurring mechanisms in the testes that protect against cancer cell development.
The study results are not surprising since chronic marijuana exposure has been shown to have adverse effects on the male reproductive and endocrine system.
Men’s health is best protected by a healthy lifestyle that includes regular testicular examination. Early detection of tumours on the testes significantly increases survival.
Sixty seconds is all it takes to self examine your own testicles. It is recommended that all men over the age of 14 conduct a testicular self exam once a month. This is the best way to become familiar with your own anatomy so that any changes are noticed right away.
Here is the four step procedure for a testicular self examination (TSE). It is recommended to do the self exam after a warm bath or shower when the structures in the scrotum are relaxed.
- Holding the scrotum, place one testicle between your thumb and fingers and gently feel the entire surface of the testicle rolling it gently between your thumb and fingers. It should be smooth with no lumps or bumps.
- Keep feeling all around the testicle and move up to the top where you should be able to feel the epididymis. It might even extend a bit behind the testicle. It might be a little tender when pressed but should feel like a “comma” shaped structure.
- Move up the epididymis and locate the spermatic cord. It will feel like a tube. It should be soft and movable.
- Repeat on the other testicle and your testicular self exam is complete. It should not take more that 60 seconds.
Testicular cancer is treated by removal of the affected testicle (orhiectomy) and radiation or chemotherapy as follow-up treatment if needed. Testicular self examination is the best way to ensure early detection of tumours on the testes. If found and treated early survival rates are close to 90%.
Only one testicle is needed for male fertility and normal male sexual functioning so if testicular cancer is detected and treated early, the orchiectomy should not affect sexual activity or plans for family expansion. Prosthetic devices are available to restore the normal feel and appearance after the removal of the affected testicle.
Like its female counterpart, breast cancer, testicular cancer is not preventable in the sense that the exact mechanisms of cause are not clearly known. While certain risks factors have been identified, and the use of marijuana appears to be one of them, these factors represent risk to men’s health rather than known causative factors and testicular cancer can still occur in men without these risk factors.