Gestational hypertension and testicular cancer: where’s the connection?

November 24, 2008 by  
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You would think these two conditions – gestational hypertension and testicular cancer – can’t have anything to do with each other. After all, they are completely separated by the gender divide (bar in transgenders, of course).

Well, it seems that there is a connection between these two and it started rather early – in the uterus in fact. According to this Swedish study, “women who experience severe gestational hypertension may give birth to boys at lower risk for testicular cancer.”

Gestational hypertension is also sometimes known as pregnancy-induced hypertension or preeclampsia. Medical experts, however, usually make a distinction between these three. All three conditions, however, are characterized by a drastic increase in blood pressure during the second half of pregnancy. They affect about 2 to 8% of all pregnancies.

According to MedlinePlus, testicular cancer mainly affects young men between the ages of 20 and 39 years old. The cause is unknown but it is associated with abnormal testicular development, such as an undescended testicle at birth.

The researchers collected data from the Swedish Cancer Register and Swedish Medical Birth Register. They looked at the pregnancy data (e.g., hypertension, proteinuria, anemia and glucoseuria) of the mothers of 293 men with germ-cell testicular cancer and 861 men who are testicular cancer-free. Their data analysis showed that there seems to be an inverse association between a mother’s hypertensive condition and the development of testicular cancer in her son.

Baby boys born to mothers with severe gestational hypertension have 71% lower likelihood of developing the cancer later in life compared to those with non-hypertensive mothers. For those who were born to mothers with mild hypertension, the risk for testicular cancer increase by 62%.

The mechanism behind the protective mechanism of maternal hypertension is not clear. However, the researchers speculate that

One possible reason is that estrogens are lower in pregnancies that develop severe gestational hypertension or preeclampsia, and this lack of estrogens may lower the risk of testicular cancer.”

Another possible explanation is that “severe gestational hypertension and preeclampsia increases the level of human chorionic gonadotropin, another pregnancy-related hormone, which may also have a protective effect against testicular cancer.”

The study results seem to show a “silver lining” to the otherwise very dark cloud of gestational hypertension. This condition is one of the leading causes of pregnancy complications that present serious risks to both mother and child. It can often result in preterm delivery, babies with low weights, and other health problems. Worst-case scenarios result in death of mother and/or child.

The study results are published in the November issue of the journal Cancer Research.

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