A researcher from Wake Forest University has reported that testicular cancer is caused by a toxin found in contaminated cereal grains, pork products and coffee.

The probable causes of testicular cancer have long been debated, but this new hypothesis does seem to help explain the patterns of the spread of the disease. The highest incidence is recorded in northern Europe, notably Denmark, in men most usually between the ages of 15 and 34.

Reporting on his findings in the February issue of the journal Cancer Causes and Control, Gary G. Schwartz argues that the toxin is ochratoxin A (OTA), a by-product of moulds that grow on a variety of plants and grains (although notably rye) and a known carcinogen in farm animals.

Schwartz explains that animals ingest OTA when they eat mouldy grains, which is then passed on to human consumers through the meat. In particular, pork products show high levels of contamination. This could explain why testicular cancer rates are at their highest in Denmark, where consumers eat the most pork products and rye per-capita in Europe.

If his hypothesis is correct, scientists may soon be looking at new ways to prevent testicular cancer. In particular, aspirin and vitamins A, C and E, are known to inhibit OTA's effects in animals - it may be that they do the same for humans.