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The Surprising Connection Between Male Infertility and Family Cancer Risk

Read Time: 3 minutes

Joemy Ramsay, PhD
Joemy Ramsay, PhD

In a recent study, researchers at Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah (the U) found a surprising trend in families with male infertility: an increased risk of certain cancers. This discovery could lead to a more personalized approach to cancer risk assessments, making cancer prevention more effective.

According to the National Institutes of Health, around 9% of men at reproductive age have experienced fertility problems.

“We know that men who experience infertility tend to have more health issues like cardiovascular disease, autoimmune conditions, earlier mortality, chronic health conditions, and cancer,” says Joemy Ramsay, PhD, the study's lead investigator, researcher at Huntsman Cancer Institute, and assistant professor in the Division of Urology at the U. “We wanted to look at whether the family members of these men were at higher risk for these conditions.”

Ramsay has a background in public health, specializing in occupational and environmental exposure. This study represents the first step in determining family members’ correlated risk levels to diseases, such as cancer. Ramsay explains that since family members share similar genetic factors, environments,  and lifestyles, it would be easier to identify other things impacting their cancer risk. Once general risk has been assessed, etiological factors can be more accurately evaluated in determining the part they play in a diagnosis.

Using the Utah Population Database, one of the world’s richest sources of genetic and public health information, Ramsay and her team, which included Heidi Hanson, MS, PhD, Nicola Camp, PhD, and Myke Madsen, looked at parents, siblings, children, and even aunts, uncles, and cousins, of men who have been diagnosed with infertility.

“It is important to have these conversations with our families and bring your concerns to your medical team.”

By observing several types of cancer at once, the team was able to develop an algorithm that clusters similar things together. This algorithm made it possible to identify roughly 13 characteristic patterns. The patterns were based on families possessing similar multi-cancer risks, instead of looking at only one cancer type at a time.

“Both cancer and subfertility are complex diseases and processes,” says Ramsay. “This method helps create similar family groups, making it easier to uncover the reason behind a family being at high risk for certain diseases over others.”

For families with male infertility, these findings may prompt additional conversations with their doctors.

“While the link is still not fully understood, it is important to have these conversations with our families and bring your concerns to your medical team,” says Ramsay.

Further research is needed to continue to establish a link between male infertility and cancer risk. Understanding the reason behind a risk may ultimately lead to more personalized courses of treatment, screening, and prevention.

Huntsman Cancer Institute leads the way in educating patients on how to prevent and treat cancer. For more information on genetic testing, visit our Family Cancer Assessment Clinic.

This study was supported by the National Institutes of Health/National Cancer Institute including P30 CA042014 and Huntsman Cancer Foundation. The chatbots were developed in a recently completed trial funded by the Inherited Cancer Syndrome Collaborative of the Cancer Moonshot initiative.

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Heather Simonsen
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Huntsman Cancer Institute
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About Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah

Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah (the U) is the National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center for Utah, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, and Wyoming. With a legacy of innovative cancer research, groundbreaking discoveries, and world-class patient care, we are transforming the way cancer is understood, prevented, diagnosed, treated, and survived. Huntsman Cancer Institute focuses on delivering a cancer-free frontier to all communities in the area we serve. We have more than 300 open clinical trials and 250 research teams studying cancer at any given time. More genes for inherited cancers have been discovered at Huntsman Cancer Institute than at any other cancer center. Our scientists are world-renowned for understanding how cancer begins and using that knowledge to develop innovative approaches to treat each patient’s unique disease. Huntsman Cancer Institute was founded by Jon M. and Karen Huntsman.

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