Men who are diagnosed as azoospermic , or infertile due to an absence of sperm in their semen, are at higher risk of developing cancer than the general population, Stanford urologist Mike Eisenberg, MD, PhD, has found. A diagnosis of azoospermia before age 30 carries an eight-fold cancer risk.
Eisenberg, who is director of male reproductive medicine and surgery at Stanford Hospital & Clinics, is lead author of a just-published study in Fertility and Sterility concluding that an azoospermic man’s risk for developing cancer is similar to that for a typical man 10 years older.
(Eisenberg is the same physician/scientist who discovered, a few years ago, that childless men are at higher cardiovascular risk than their counterparts with kids.)
About 4 million American men – 15 percent of those ages 15-45 – are infertile. Of these, some 600,000 (an estimated 15 percent) are azoospermic, usually because their testes don’t produce enough sperm for any to reach their ejaculate – most likely, Eisenberg says, because of genetic deficiencies of one sort or another.
That may explain the azoospermia/cancer link. As I wrote in my news release on this study, fully one-fourth of all the genes in the human genome play some role in reproduction:
The findings suggest that genetic defects that result in azoospermia may… broadly increase a man’s vulnerability to cancer, Eisenberg said, supporting the notion that azoospermia and cancer vulnerability may share common genetic causes.
Although men diagnosed as azoospermic before age 30 appear to have a particularly pronounced cancer risk compared with their same-age peers, Eisenberg notes that the absolute cancer risk for any apparently healthy man under age 30, regardless of whether or not he is azoospermic, nevertheless remain very small. Still, he advises young men who’ve been diagnosed as azoospermic to be aware of their heightened risk and make sure to get periodic checkups with that in mind.
“Most reproductive aged men (20s-40s) don’t have primary care doctors or really ever see the doctor,” Eisenberg says.