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Son's Testicular Cancer Worse Than Dad's

Sons of men with testicular cancer may develop the disease at a much earlier age than their fathers did, results of a new study suggest. The sons may also develop a more severe form of the disease than their fathers had.

"The most important point of the study is that for father-son testicular tumors (i.e. case histories where both the father and a son develop a testicular tumor during their lifetime) the age of onset for the son is almost 20 years earlier than the age of onset for the father," chief investigator Dr. Richard E. Peschel said.

In a study of 47 cases in which both the father and son developed testicular cancer between 1972 and 1999, the sons developed the cancer at an earlier age than their fathers (average age 27 years versus 43 years), suggesting a phenomenon known as genetic anticipation. Overall, 43% of sons had more severe disease than their father did, 47% had the same disease severity and in 10% of cases, their disease was less severe, according to the report in the May 15, 2000 issue of the journal Cancer.

Testicular cancer is now the most common cancer in white males aged 20 to 34 years, according to Peschel, a professor of therapeutic radiology from the Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut, and co-author Dr. Stephanie Han. However, the cause of the illness is unknown. Research shows that sons of men with testicular cancer are 6 to 10 times more likely to develop the condition, which suggests that the cancer may have a genetic component.

"Our results strongly suggest a genetic defect is responsible for many father-son testicular tumors," Peschel noted. However, "Until the underlying genetic etiology (cause) in father-son testicular tumor is better defined, the concept of genetic anticipation is noteworthy but unproven," the authors write.

"For all males with a family history of a father with a testicular tumor, the sons should begin self-examination of the testes at a very early age (less than 20 years old)," Peschel advised.

The disease could have a greater impact on the sons than the fathers, according to the report. Radiation therapy used to treat cancer can cause a permanent low-sperm count that could interfere with their future ability to have children. Also, both father and son have a 2% to 10% chance of developing a second cancer in the 15 to 25 years after receiving radiation treatment.

SOURCES: Reuters Health, May 18, 2000 The Journal Cancer, May 15, 2000; 88:2319-2325