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Abnormal Semen Analysis Results Increase the Risk of Cancer in Men

Adapted from “Subfertility increases risk of testicular cancer: evidence from population-based semen samples” by Heidi A. Hanson, Ph.D et al, in February 2016 issue of Fertility and Sterility.

A study out of the University of Utah looking at the incidence of common forms of cancer in males found that men with abnormally low semen analysis results are at a greater risk of developing testicular cancer. Men with an abnormally high sperm count had increased incidents of melanomas. In contrast to previous studies on sperm quality and cancer risk, no increased cancer risk was found in men with azoospermia, a complete absence of sperm in the ejaculate.

This study is the first to explore the associations between sperm viability and motility and cancer risk as well as the first study to calculate the cancer risk of men seen in a fertility clinic compared to known fertile controls.

In a retrospective study, 20, 433 men who underwent semen analysis at the University of Utah between 1996 and 2011 were matched for age and birth year with 20,433 fertile controls from the Utah Population Database. The researchers used the Utah Cancer Registry to identify 421 total cancers in both groups, fertile and subfertile. The most common cancers were melanoma, testicular, and prostate cancers.

Relative to fertile controls, the men who sought medical help for infertility had three times the risk of developing testicular cancer. This risk was heightened for men with abnormally low sperm count whose testicular cancer risk rose to more than ten times that of fertile controls. There was also an increase in testicular cancer risk observed with declining values for other semen parameters: sperm motility, viability, and total motile sperm count.

No associations were found between semen quality and prostate cancer risk; the researchers caution that this finding could be due to the relative youth of the subjects or the relatively short follow-up time of the study.

An interesting relationship was observed between semen quality and melanoma risk in men with very high sperm count. In this subset of patients, there was a two-fold increase in the incidence of melanoma relative to fertile controls.

Men who were azoospermic (without sperm) were not observed to have any increased cancer risk compared to fertile controls.

October 2016

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