In January, a team of researchers at Harvard published a study in which they found a variant in checkpoint kinase 2, or CHEK2, that is involved in testicular cancer as well as a higher risk for the later development of other cancers such as colorectal, prostate, and breast. Checkpoint kinases are enzymes that are involved in the cell cycle, which is the process in which our cells duplicate their DNA–or genetic material–and eventually divide, producing two “daughter” cells.
The study involved 884 men and showed that those who carried germline pathogenic variants in CHEK2 were 4-6 times more likely to develop testicular germ cell tumors. The study also found that men with loss-of-function variants of CHEK2 generally grew testicular germ cell tumors about 6 years sooner than men without the variant.
And while the study’s findings are intriguing, Scott Tagawa, the medical director of the Genitourinary Oncology Program at Cornell, told Cancer Network that it’s not likely germline genetic testing will become commonplace even in patients with germline testicular cancer. “We don’t generally do germline screenings for testis cancer patients,” he explained. “Part of that is because there is no difference in survival. We cure almost everyone.” However, Tagawa said that the study would certainly make him concentrate on a patient’s family history even more.
On the other hand, young, healthy men who are aware of family members with the CHEK2 variant should be more attentive, because it could mean they are at a higher risk for testicular cancer–particularly if they themselves have the variant. Tagawa told Cancer Network that he hoped men in those situations would be more cautious, especially if something felt wrong in his testicles, and that they would get medical attention instead of ignoring the potential problem.
When it comes to cancer, everyone’s best bet is vigilance: be aware of any risk factors you may be susceptible to, get screened regularly if possible, and be cognizant of the lifestyle you’re living.