Men sometimes undergo a testicular ultrasound as part of an examination to treat infertility. These ultrasounds sometimes detect tumors that cannot be felt by a physical examination, though there is not a lot of literature on the characteristics of these tumors or how they should be treated. Scientists from Tel Aviv University took one of the first steps into this area in a recent study in the journal Fertility and Sterility.
What they wanted to know: What are the characteristics of testicular tumors in infertile men?
What they did: The researchers looked at the medical histories of 11 men who had been diagnosed as having a tumor while being evaluated for infertility and had subsequently had an orchiectomy (testicle removal).
What they found: In three of the patients, the tumor could be felt, but in the other eight, it was only visible on the ultrasound. In all patients, the tumors were small and centrally located. Six of the patients had malignant tumors, including all five of the men who either had testes that did not descend properly or were unable to produce sperm. Three patients had Leydig-cell tumors, a much higher percentage than is found in the general population. Leydig-cell tumors are not malignant but can cause infertility as well as a syndrome called gynecomastia, which causes development of men's breasts.
What it means to you: Infertility could be linked to problems in the testicles such as tumors, so if you're going for treatment, it's not a bad idea to have an ultrasound to check them out. While this doesn't tell you anything about who is at risk of having tumors, men who do not produce sperm or who had undescended testes as youths and have tumors turn up in their testicles, may be more likely to find out those tumors are cancerous. They may need more aggressive treatments than other men.
Caveats: This study is meant to give a general idea of how tumors might develop in infertile menit is not a statistically representative sample and cannot be generalized. In addition, the authors didn't have information about how many men who were evaluated for infertility developed tumors (just the number that had a testicle removed) or how many of the 11 patients were diagnosed using an ultra-sound (though at least eight were probably diagnosed this way because their tumors could not be felt).
Find out more: For general information about testicular cancer, the National Cancer Institute is one-stop shopping at: http://www.cancer.gov/
The Male Infertility Treatment Center at Cornell University also has a wealth of information: http://www.maleinfertility.org/
Read the article: Tal, R. et al. "Incidental Testicular Tumors in Infertile Men." Fertility and Sterility. August 2004, Vol. 82, No. 2. pp. 469471.
Abstract online: http://www.fertstert.org/