Finding out you’re infertile is tough to take. And for some men, that one piece of bad news has turned into two: Men with no sperm count, who make up about 15 percent of infertility cases, also have a somewhat above-average risk of developing cancer.
A recent study looked at over 2,200 infertile men at a Texas clinic; all were in their mid-thirties, and 451 of them had no sperm count. The researchers followed the men’s health for over six years and found that the men who produced no sperm were three times as likely to get cancer as men the same age in the general population. The situation was even worse for men found to have no sperm count before the age of 30; the risk of these men developing cancer increased eightfold. (Fortunately, men in their thirties and forties rarely get cancer, so even with these increases, the absolute risk remained low, with only 29 cases out of the more than 2,200 men in the study.)
In other words, that zero sperm count isn’t just about whether you can be a dad (and about half of men who are infertile actually can, since they have viable sperm in the testes). “It’s a warning sign for your overall health,” says Dr. Michael Eisenberg, director of the Male Reproductive Medicine and Surgery Program at Stanford Hospital and an author of the study. That’s not to say you should be rushing out to get every cancer screening available – just checking in with your doctor, and keeping yourself in check, too. “Getting physicals, getting routine blood work, keeping an eye on your blood pressure and your weight, those are all going to be important,” Eisenberg says. “Then if something does happen, it can be diagnosed at an earlier stage and treated.”