Just Say No ... or Else You Get Cancer?

New research shows marijuana use could increase the risk for testicular cancer.

ByABC News
February 6, 2009, 4:52 PM

Feb. 9, 2009 — -- Internet photos of swimming phenomenon Michael Phelps, 23, possibly indulging in an Olympian lungful of marijuana smoke scandalized many and may have caused him to lose face and the faith of some of his fans -- not to mention a lucrative sponsorship from Kellogg.

But according to new research, if Phelps makes a habit of smoking up, he could stand to loose more than a fan base.

For the first time, researchers have linked frequent marijuana use to an increased risk of testicular cancer, according to an article published today in the journal Cancer.

"There's been very little research done on marijuana use and its association with cancer risk," said Janet Daling, the senior author of the article and an epidemiologist and member of the Public Health Sciences Division at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center (FHCRC) in Seattle. "This is the first time this association has been shown."

Using a population-based, case-control study, Daling surveyed 369 men diagnosed with testicular cancer and 979 healthy men between ages 18-44 about their history with marijuana use.

After controlling for family history and lifestyle factors, including alcohol and tobacco use, which could also be associated with testicular cancer, the researchers found that being a marijuana smoker was associated with a 70 percent increased risk of testicular cancer.

Participants who used marijuana once a week or more or who had long-term exposure to marijuana since adolescence were at twice the risk for testicular cancer than those who never used marijuana.

In addition, the association between frequent marijuana use and testicular cancer was more pronounced among men who had nonseminomas, a more aggressive form of testicular cancer, than those who had seminomas. Nonseminomas also tend to strike in younger men.

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Although this research has the most implications for habitual users, it goes against commonly held beliefs that marijuana is one of the more benign recreational drugs, a potential concern given the number of people who have tried marijuana in their lives.