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Epigenetics and Testicular Cancer

Epigenetics and…

In this series of articles we will be exploring the link between epigenetics and some of the most hotly discussed health conditions, exploring how understanding epigenetics can have a huge impact on our knowledge and even prevention of these conditions. Next up, we explore epigenetics and testicular cancer.

If you would like more information about how ToHealth can provide your employees with these types of valuable insights, check out our DNA & Epigenetic testing services.

What is Testicular Cancer?

Testicular Cancer is when changes in our genes leads to the development of abnormal cells in one of the testes that start to divide in an uncontrollable way, which can develop into growths called tumours. Testicular cancer can then spread to other parts of the body as the disease progresses.

How common is Testicular Cancer?

According to Cancer Research UK[i] between 2016 and 2018 there were 2,354 new cases of testicular cancer each year in the UK. It also has been reported that the incidence (number of new cases) of testicular cancer in 2018 has increased by more than 25% when compared to 1990.

What is epigenetics?

Epigenetics is the study of how our lifestyle and surrounding environment influence the behaviour of our genes. To simplify, if we can think about each gene having an on-off switch, our lifestyle as well as our environment can influence whether a particular gene is “on” or “off”. The combination of which genes are “on” and which are “off” impacts on our overall health. I like to use the analogy of a crossroad to try to explain this better – in the picture below we can think of each traffic light as representing a gene.

Having the right combination of red light and green lights switching on and off, would help the crossroads work in the most efficient way to keep traffic moving, whilst keeping the risk of accident as low as possible. Epigenetics is the study of how our lifestyle and environment can influence these traffic lights.

For a more in-depth exploration of epigenetics, check out our epigenetics 101 beginners guide.

What can epigenetics tell us about our risk of Cancer?

Research[i] has shown that changes to our epigenetics can lead to changes to the activity of certain segments of DNA and the chemicals that regulate the genetic instruction that is passed on to produce specific proteins, which can result in abnormal gene expression patterns that can:

  • Contribute to initiate the development of cancer
  • Reduce the expression of tumour suppressor genes (our “quality control” mechanism for cells that stops abnormal cells from replicating further)
  • Activate processes that accelerate the development of cancer

By studying our epigenetics, we can identify patterns which have shown to be associated with an increase in the risk of developing cancer.

Can we influence our epigenetics to modify our risk?

Several lifestyle factors have been identified that can may modify epigenetic patterns and hence by changing our lifestyle we can potential modify our epigenetic patterns, which may impact on our risk of developing certain health problems including cancer. By analysing our own unique epigenetics, we can understand what aspects of our lifestyle we may need to change.

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[i] https://www.bhf.org.uk/-/media/files/research/heart-statistics/bhf-cvd-statistics—uk-factsheet.pdf

[ii] Shi, Y., Zhang, H., Huang, S. et al. Epigenetic regulation in cardiovascular disease: mechanisms and advances in clinical trials. Sig Transduct Target Ther 7, 200 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41392-022-01055-2

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