Till date, infertility in men was only linked to impaired chances of producing an offspring. But according to new findings, infertile men also run a higher risk of cancer.
The study, published in the June 20 edition of the journal Fertility and Sterility, suggests that men who are diagnosed with azoospermia, infertility caused due to absence of sperm production, run a higher risk of developing cancer.
Furthermore, men who are diagnosed with azoospermia before 30 years of age are more than eight times more likely to develop cancer than those diagnosed later in life, researchers marked.
“An azoospermic man’s risk for developing cancer is similar to that for a typical man 10 years older,” study’s lead researcher, Michael Eisenberg, assistant professor of urology at the medical school and director of male reproductive medicine and surgery at Stanford Hospital & Clinics.
For the purpose of the study, researchers looked at 2,238 men with a median age of 35.7 years. All participants had sought treatment for infertility at a Baylor andrology clinic from 1989 to 2009.
While 451 were diagnosed with azoospermia, 1,787 were not.
During the median follow-up of 6.7 years, 29 infertile men developed cancers of varied types. While 10 cases were reported in men with azoospermia, 19 were seen in men without azoospermia.
Men who had a cancer diagnosis within 3 years of their infertility diagnoses were discarded from the study analysis as the possibility of infertility being caused by an undiagnosed cancer prevailed.
Compared to general population, infertile men ran a higher overall cancer risk, researchers highlighted.
“This study suggests that this group of men is at higher risk, but it’s unclear if more intense screening would be helpful,” Dr. Eisenberg said. “It’s important to note that most reproductive-aged men (20s to 40s) don’t have primary care doctors or really ever see the doctor. A lot of times, seeing a physician about fertility may be the first time they seek healthcare.”
While researchers are still unclear why azoospermic men are more likely to develop tumors, they feel genetic flaws might be involved in cancer susceptibility.
“When we see a man with azoospermia, we usually assume there’s a genetic cause,” Eisenberg said. There are certain gene mutations already tied to the condition, but a minority of azoospermic men turn out to have one of them when they are tested. That means there are likely other, as yet unknown, gene defects involved in azoospermia, Eisenberg said.