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What Does ISCI Tell Us About Men’s Reproductive Health?

Scientists find a possible link between men who seek assisted reproduction and the onset of prostate cancer.

December 28, 2020
Brooke Barash

When we talk about assisted reproduction, it’s common for women’s health to take over the conversation. But in any case, especially conception, it takes two to tango. Of course, there is undoubtedly more that can go wrong within the female reproductive system. Because of that, doctors and researchers alike have spent countless hours and resources on providing options for women.

Still, a kink in the male reproductive system also has the power to determine whether or not having a baby is feasible. There are a couple of options for men who are struggling, but they aren’t without their risks. Here’s what you need to know about assisted reproduction for men.

Man seeks information about male assisted reproduction
Since reproductive health often isn’t a primary focus for men, both in preventing or achieving conception, it’s understandable not to know where to start when it comes to assisted reproduction. Keep reading for more info! Image courtesy of Pexels.

What You Need To Know About Male Infertility

Though many people think it easy for men to perform both sexually and reproductively, it isn’t always easy. Many contributing factors may cause male infertility, but the causes aren’t exactly common knowledge.

Not to worry, though. We’re here to spread some enlightenment. After all, knowing what’s causing your fertility issues is the first step in brainstorming solutions. 

When To Seek Help

In deciphering if a man is struggling to conceive, fertility doctors don’t have much to go off, and they’re cautious in making the assessment. This is because male fertility tends to be complicated.  

To be considered infertile, a man must continually fail to get a woman pregnant after a year or more of trying. As this is often the only notable infertility symptom, most men don’t know they’re infertile until they begin trying for a child. Still, others may arise, like--

  • Recurrent respiratory infections
  • Abnormal breast growth
  • Decreased Facial or Body Hair
  • Inability to Smell
  • Painful Lump or Bump on the Groin

If any of these sound familiar, it might be a good idea to consult with a fertility doctor.

Contributing Factors

Many different things may lead to male infertility. Some include--

  • Hormonal Imbalances
  • Compromised Sperm Motility
  • Low Sperm Count
  • Undescended Testicles
  • Sexual Dysfunction
  • Celiac Disease

Not all of these risk factors are known to those who have them, but in cases like hormonal imbalance and sexual dysfunction, it’s great to start thinking of symptom management beforehand.

man discusses assisted reproduction with doctor
Solutions for male infertility might sound scary because we don’t talk about them often. But did you know it isn’t that different from the routes future parents already take? Image courtesy of Yale News.

What Is ICSI?

ICSI, or Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection, is a subset of In Vitro Fertilization. In traditional IVF, embryos are made by putting upwards of 50,000 healthy sperm in the same petri dish as a potentially viable egg--the rest is history.

But in ICSI, fertility doctors take a singular sperm cell and inject it directly into the egg. After this step, traditional IVF and ICSI look the same. Viable embryos are implanted, and those seeking treatment hope for the best!

When Is It Used?

ICSI is a great method to use when male fertility has been a deciding factor in choosing assisted reproduction. 

Since only one sperm cell is used at a time, it’s particularly economical for men who have a low sperm count by making sure each cell gets used judiciously. The same goes for men whose sperm has compromised motility or if there’s a blockage present in the male reproductive tract. 

Additionally, ICSI is generally the choice when working with either mature or recently thawed eggs.

man considering assisted reproduction
When trying for a little one, there are many factors to consider--especially when fertility issues arise. But what if your parental endeavors lead you down another path? Researchers think it might. Image courtesy of Pexels.

Could There Be A Connection Between ISCI and Prostate Cancer?

Prostate cancer and male infertility occur at similar rates among men during their reproductive years. That similarity likely exists because of each diagnosis’s link to hormonal imbalance. 

Knowing this, a group of researchers based in Sweden sought to find a link between the onset of prostate cancer and different modes of reproductive--natural conception vs. assisted reproduction.

The Study

After separating the two groups, they found that men who conceived using IVF and ICSI had a significantly higher risk of prostate cancer than men who could conceive through intercourse. 

37% of the men who used assisted reproduction in having their children were diagnosed with prostate cancer as opposed to .28% of the men who went the natural route. 

Researchers also found a risk of early-onset prostate cancer (diagnosed before age 55) in men who used ICSI.

Clashing Outlooks In The Scientific Community

But even with these findings, the research group couldn’t establish a causal connection between ICSI and prostate cancer. Still, they believe they’re on to something that could potentially save lives. 

"Men who achieved fatherhood through assisted reproduction techniques, particularly through ICSI, are at high risk for early-onset prostate cancer and thus constitute a risk group in which testing and careful long term follow-up for prostate cancer may be beneficial."

With that, it’s important to note that there is skepticism surrounding whether ICSI rates should be used as a marker for the potential onset of cancer or a reason for screening.

“In the absence of a plausible mechanism of action or proof of causation, justifying screening for prostate cancer in all infertile men is difficult.”

Regardless of whether a fertility doctor can recommend it, getting screened for any health condition is never a bad idea. You might just find what’s causing those infertility struggles and prevent others from happening. The more you know, the better equipped you’ll be!


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