As infertility, testicular cancer rates rise, is it time for male private(s) talk?

condoms-300x200Gentlemen, rev those engines of anxiety: Male infertility rates are on the rise, as are those for testicular cancer. Meantime, a global effort to improve one of the most common forms of male contraception may provoke some uncomfortable discussions about masculine misconceptions.

When there’s a break in the Major League Baseball championships, or the NCAA or NFL football regular season football games, or the NBA basketball contests, see how much the buds can be startled by researchers’ latest medical worry about men, as summarized in a summer Newsweek report:

Sperm levels—the most important measurement of male fertility—are declining throughout much of the world, including the U.S. [A review of] thousands of studies … concluded that sperm concentration had fallen by 52 percent among men in Western countries between 1973 and 2011. Four decades ago, the average Western man had a sperm concentration of 99 million per milliliter. By 2011, that had fallen to 47.1 million. The plummet is alarming because sperm concentrations below 40 million per milliliter are considered below normal and can impair fertility.

At the same time, researchers have  just observed in the medical journal BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal), the incidence of testicular cancer “has risen substantially over the past few decades, particularly in young men. Increases seem to be occurring even in countries that have had low incidence. [Such cancer] is linked to risk of poor semen quality: Reports suggest that countries with a high incidence of this cancer have generally lower semen quality and vice versa.”

Experts are uncertain what’s causing both these male medical maladies. They’re not panicked yet that they may affect the species’ ability to sustain itself. But they are raising red flags that medical scientists and public health experts may need to dig deeper into harms to men caused by environmental factors, including pesticides and proliferating chemicals and substances that affect male hormonal levels and processes.

While chugging a beer and mourning the Washington Nationals’ NLCS loss, of course, the fellas may insist that they’re already environmentally aware and trying to help Mother Earth by taking reproductive precautions. See then what kind of rise occurs at mention of recent moves by the federal Food and Drug Administration and industry groups to allow for “bespoke” or custom-fit condoms.

As the Gray Lady has reported, Boston-based Global Protection Corp. now offers more than 60 sizes of male prophylactics. The company pushed the FDA on, among other things, to allow shrinkage from the previous requirement of a 6.69-inch standard size. That’s more product than what researchers found would suffice for many at a 5.57-inch research average, though the company also sells them up to 9.4 inches in length and with a 5-inch circumference.

If there’s squeamishness about that information, switch subjects. Mention that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation conducted one of its grand challenges, giving away sizable sums, to innovators who could design and make better and more comfortable men’s protection. The foundation said that condoms offer one of the most affordable, accessible, recognized ways for men to avoid unwanted pregnancies and the spread of many sexual diseases, notably HIV-AIDS. But condoms have changed little over time and fewer men use them than they might due to various complaints about them.

Regular self-exams and doctor check-ups may be in order to detect early and to treat reproductive disorders, including cancers. A little less than 9,000 men annually will be diagnosed with testicular cancer—which has a 95 percent five-year survival rate.

Meantime, infertility treatment—which should be considered an issue for both men and women—has become a $3.5 billion industry. Even as the various forms of therapy burgeon, as researchers have noted, “fertility rates in many countries remain well below the replacement rate of an average of 2.1 children per woman. In many European countries, including Germany, Japan, and Singapore, fertility rates range between 1.0 and 1.5, and fertility has become important in political and economic debates.”

So, OK, no more talking until the next TV commercial? Got it.

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