Stanford, Calif. (CBS ATLANTA) — Men who are infertile because of an absence of sperm in their semen – diagnosed as azoospermic – run a much higher risk of developing cancer than other men.

A new study from the Stanford University School of Medicine finds that the risk of cancer is eight times greater for men who are diagnosed as azoospmeric before the age of thirty. Diagnoses of azoospermia and low fertility in men are quite common in the U.S., with some 4 million afflicted with infertility.

“An azoospermic man’s risk for developing cancer is similar to that for a typical man 10 years older,” said Michael Eisenberg, MD, PhD, assistant professor of urology at the medical school and director of male reproductive medicine and surgery at Stanford Hospital & Clinics. Eisenberg is lead author of the study, published online June 20 in Fertility and Sterility.

Low sperm can be caused by a number of health issues and medical treatments, including: ejaculations problems, sexually transmitted infections, Celiac disease and certain medications which effect testosterone production. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) finds that tobacco use and illicit substances can also have a negative effect on sperm count.

Nearly 4 million American men — 15 percent of those ages 15-45 — are infertile. Of these men, almost 600,000 — about 1 percent of those of reproductive age — are azoospermic. Eisenberg says that this is likely because the men’s testes didn’t produce enough sperm to reach an ejaculation, which Eisenberg says is likely a result of some sort of genetic deficiency.

The Stanford University study population consisted of 2,238 infertile men who were seen at a Baylor andrology clinic from 1989 to 2009. Their median age was 35.7 when they were first evaluated for the cause of their infertility. Of those men, 451 were diagnosed with azoospermia, and 1,787 were not.

Although men who are diagnosed as azoospermic before age 30 appear to have a particularly pronounced cancer risk compared with their peers, Eisenberg notes that the complete cancer risk for any apparently healthy man under age 30, regardless of whether or not he is azoospermic, nevertheless remains very small.

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