Poor semen quality in Switzerland: is there a link between sperm count and testicular cancer?

An image to illustrate sperm count in Switzerland which has been associated with increased incidence of testicular cancer
© iStock/iLexx

What is the association between low sperm count in Swiss young men and the increase in testicular cancer in Switzerland?

According to the University of Geneva (UNIGE), Switzerland, there has been a marked decrease in sperm count in the western world over the last fifty years. However, there has been no study to evaluate the reproductive health of young men in Switzerland until now. The new study, which was a collaboration between UNIGE and other institutions, and supported by the Swiss army, is the first national assessment of the sperm count of Swiss men aged 18-22. The study results were concerning to UNIGE as there is an association between the poor semen quality in Switzerland and the increase in testicular cancer incidence.

Defining low sperm count

Serge Nef, a professor in the Department of Genetic Medicine and Development in UNIGE’s Faculty of Medicine, commented: “It’s important to understand that the time needed to conceive increase significantly if a man has a sperm concentration below 40 million sperm per ml.” According to UNIGE, a man whose sperm concentration is below 15 million per ml can be considered subfertile and is more likely to encounter problems conceiving a child, regardless of the fertility of his partner, and infertility is defined as the inability to conceive after 12 months of regular unprotected sexual intercourse.

The study assessed three parameters:

  • The number of spermatozoa;
  • Their motility; and
  • The morphology.

They found that the results were below the World Health Organization (WHO)’s reference values.

Semen count and testicular cancer in Switzerland

Sperm count varies between different countries. The median concentration is between 41 to 67 million per ml for young European males. According to UNIGE, Swiss men with 47 million per ml are at the bottom of the scale alongside Denmark, Norway and Germany.

Professor Nef explained: “For 35 years, testicular cancer has grown steadily to over 10 cases per 100,000 men, which is very high compared to other European countries. Sperm quality is generally lower in countries where the incidence of testicular cancer is high.”

According to the University of Geneva (UNIGE), Switzerland, there has been a marked decrease in sperm count in the western world over the last fifty years. However, there has been no study to evaluate the reproductive health of young men in Switzerland until now. The new study, which was a collaboration between UNIGE and other institutions, and supported by the Swiss army, is the first national assessment of the sperm count of Swiss men aged 18-22.

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