Imaging parking your car at home after work and all the nicks and scratches are removed while you sleep, before heading to work the next day. All shiny and new, polished even, while you sleep. Believe it or not, this is normally what happens to your genes and chromosomes on a minute-to-minute basis. DNA mismatch repair is a constant and vigilant process, occurring in all cells of the body. Why the biologic vigilance? Well, It keeps us whole, healthy and cancer free.
About 11 years ago, we published a paper showing for the first time that infertile men can’t repair the errors normally encountered in their DNA as well as normal men. This was startling news in part because it implied that infertile men may be more likely to develop other problems later in life, including cancer. Why cancer? Because the development of cancer has been associated with the inability to normally repair the frequent daily errors that occur to one’s DNA as the body’s cells divide and renew.
Today, however, we know much more. We know that testis cancer is 3-fold more likely to occur in previously infertile men than in fertile men as they age. And our latest research has shown that prostate cancer, thought to be a disease exclusive to older men, occurs more seriously and more commonly in previously infertile men.
So what does this mean? Is male infertility the first sign of a larger problem in our species? It is the ultimate medical problem of a species trying to reproduce? Well, honestly it isn’t entirely clear. However, to me it indicates that male infertility should certainly be considered an insurable and real medical condition that should be taken as seriously as a heart attack. Even more worrisome is the issue of whether the use of sperm from severely infertile men is putting their offspring at even higher risk of medical issues than that experienced by their fathers.
So do not ignore the infertility issue when it strikes and get that male partner evaluated by a specialist. Teach him to perform testicular self-examination, a simple maneuver performed once monthly in the shower that has far more potential to extend his life than even exercising or weight control. Educate him about prostate cancer so that he does not ignore the powerful screening tools available to find it early. The age of innocence is over. The warning signs are now clear; get men the care that they deserve.