By Jeffrey Kopman
Male infertility costs men more than just the ability to reproduce - it could also cost them their lives. Interfile men, especially those who are unable to produce sperm in their ejaculate, may be nearly two-times more likely to develop cancer than the general population, according to a study from the Stanford University School of Medicine published in Fertility and Sterility.
A total of 2,238 infertile men were observed for the study. None of the men had a history of vasectomy, and 451 had been diagnosed with azoospermia - a lack of sperm.
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Medical records from the beginning of 1995 until the end of 2009 revealed that 29 infertile men had been diagnosed with cancer - nearly 12 more cases than a random sample of the general population would produce. Cancer risk doubled for men with azoospermia compared to non-azoospermic men.
A subanalysis revealed that the trend was the most severe in younger azoospermic men. The analysis revealed that as age decreased the cancer risk increased, with the highest risk being for men younger than age 30. These men carry an eight-fold cancer risk.
Overall, infertile men were 1.7 times more likely to develop cancer when compared to the general population. Men with azoospermia had a 2.9 fold increased risk compared to infertile men.
"An azoospermic man's risk for developing cancer is similar to that for a typical man 10 years older," said lead author Michael Eisenberg, MD, PhD, assistant professor of urology at the medical school and director of male reproductive medicine and surgery at Stanford Hospital & Clinics, in a press release.
The relationship between infertility and types of cancers was not considered to be statistically significant, but subjects were diagnosed with several types, including: brain, prostate, and stomach tumors, in addiction to melanoma, lymphoma, testicular cancer, and cancer of the small intestine. Previous studies have found a relationship between infertility and testicular cancer.
This is the first study to suggest that azoospermia is associated with an increased risk of cancer. Future research should look at the benefits of having azoospermic men screened for cancer more often.
"What I would like to see from this study is that, if a couple has infertility, and the male is diagnosed as a contributing factor, that an evaluation should be performed to detect other serious medical concerns," said Natan Bar-Chama, MD, Director of Male Reproductive Medicine and Surgery at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City. "The emphasis at a fertility clinic is on the woman, and the technology is so effective that pregnancy becomes possible. But the male is often not inspected. Because of the effectiveness of technology with fertility, the male is very often bypassed during the evaluation."
What Is Azoospermia?
Infertility affects 4 million American men, including 15 percent of those ages 15 to 45. Approximately 600,000 of these men -- or only 1 percent of men of reproductive age -- are both infertile and azoospermic.
There are two causes of azoospermia: obstructive and non-obstructive. Obstructive azoospermia is caused by a blockage that prevents sperm from reaching the ejaculate. Non-obstructive azoospermia is classified by a lack of production of sperm in the testes, most likely caused by genetic deficiencies.
Azoospermia is diagnosed through two semen analysis evaluations. This includes a full physical examination, laboratory tests, and sometimes a transrectal ultrasound.
Testicular azoospermia - the most common form of the condition - is usually permanent, but there is treatment for less severe forms of the disease, such as pre- and post-testicular azoospermia.
These forms of the condition can be treated with antibiotics or surgery. Men with obstructive azoospermia can also still have their sperm extracted to be artificially inseminated in a woman's egg.
Still, cancer risks can remain even after infertility has been treated, says Dr. Bar-Chama.
"Treatment of infertility does not help with the problems of infertility, it helps you overcome them and allows reproduction," he said. "But that doesn't help with the underlying cancer risk."
"Men Unable to Produce Sperm Might Have Higher Risk of Cancer" originally appeared on Everyday Health.