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Male Fertility Problems Linked to Testicular Cancer

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Christopher Coe, PhD, professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin, has been studying the effects of the intrauterine environment on offspring in rhesus monkeys. "We have been studying a 50-year-old colony of monkeys, encompassing five generations and more than 15,00 births, and have been examining systematically the effects of the mother's gestational experience on her offspring," he tells WebMD. "Such factors do indeed play a role in the size of the offspring, the age at which they reach puberty, their risk of pregnancy complications, and their ability to handle glucose [sugar]. All of these associations have also been suggested in humans.

"We're now starting to examine the effects of maternal nutrition and stress on the health of the offspring," Coe says. "We know the placenta isn't a perfect barrier, but the question remains, which factors are important and how long during pregnancy do they have a consequence? There appears to be some wisdom to our grandmothers' advice that, during pregnancy, a woman wants to be more careful and moderate her lifestyle."

The current study by Jacobsen and colleagues looked at the results of semen analysis in more than 30,000 Danish men, and correlated them with the development of various cancers. Men who had abnormal semen-analysis results were roughly twice as likely to develop testicular cancer. "We think this association may be due to a disruption in the mother's hormonal status during pregnancy," Jacobsen says. But researchers don't yet know what might cause such a disruption. "The next step is to study that association," Jacobsen says.

Right now, no one is suggesting that abnormal semen characteristics cause testicular cancer, since not all men with abnormal results will develop the disease, but Jacobsen does say that testicular cancer may be preceded by semen abnormalities.

"We see some interesting associations with semen abnormalities," Fady Sharara, MD, a reproductive endocrinologist with the Fertility and Reproductive Health Center in Arlington, Va. "or example, recently, a study reported such abnormalities in long distance truck drivers. My feeling is that such abnormalities arise from both a genetic component and an environmental one, and the hypothesis of a factor operating during pregnancy makes sense."

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