Male Fertility: Is there a problem and what can be done?
Now celebrating its 10th year, The UK’s biggest fertility event returns to Olympia London 3 - 4 November with over 100 exhibitors offering advice and support, and over 50 talks covering all aspects of fertility and infertility treatment.
One of these aspects we want to support more is male infertility; Whilst Male Fertility has traditionally been seen by many as a taboo subject, things are changing with efforts now being made to increase public awareness of this common problem as well as its associated health issues.
The Fertility Show will be raising awareness of male fertility by hosting several seminars and specific panels on the ‘Let’s Talk Fertility’ Q&A stage.
One of our key speakers - Kevin McEleny, consultant urologist and the British Fertility Society’s Chair of Education and Training, here discusses the role of male factor fertility in the IVF industry and what is being done to address it….
Why does the IVF industry still focus wholly on women and not men?
The IVF industry focuses on women as women have most of the treatment, but it is also because the background of those treating infertile couples (doctor and nurses) is gynaecology, where there is by definition, no exposure to male health issues, so the clinical assessment of men is something that they may not have had exposure to. The background of the staff also determines the culture of fertility clinics and a consequence of this, men can sometimes feel excluded. Some reproductive medicine experts have had some training in male clinical assessment, but historically, it hasn’t been seen as a high priority.
What is being done to address this?
The attitude towards male fertility is changing. The key thing is to make it less of a taboo subject and in the same way that other male health issues, such as those related to male cancers, sexual problems and mental health problems are no longer taboo subjects, a greater public awareness of male fertility issues will drive change in fertility clinics, i.e. couples will expect to see a real expert who will give them a thorough assessment. This has been helped by Fertility Network UK leading campaigns to raise the public awareness of male fertility and by groups like the British Fertility Society running courses to train health care professionals about male fertility. There is now a greater awareness of the scale of male fertility problems worldwide and there is likely to be more research in the future into this important problem.
What are the most important things that men should know about their fertility?
Men should be aware that once they get into their 40s, their fertility may start to decline, but the biggest factor in determining an outcome (assuming male fertility isn’t already severely compromised), is female age. By putting off having a child with their partner they may lower their own chance of achieving parenthood. In terms of what they can do themselves, regular exercise, a healthy diet (including an avoidance of anabolic steroid-containing gym supplements) and loose-fitting pants are reasonable ways to start. Some men with fertility problems have a slightly increased risk of testicular cancer and whilst this remains rare, all men should self-examine their testicles on a regular basis and let their GP know if they have any concerns. Couples trying to conceive should have a semen analysis performed at an early point, certainly before more invasive female tests.
What advice would you give to couples struggling with male factor infertility?
Couples struggling with male factor fertility should ensure that they are aware of all their treatment options. If male fertility isn’t severely affected there may still be a chance of conceiving naturally. In terms of getting support, your local fertility centre will have a counsellor available, but this may not be something all men wish to use. There will hopefully be more options available for male-specific support in the future, so watch this space!
Kevin McEleny will be discussing the topic ‘Male Infertility: Is there a problem and what can be done?’ at The Fertility Show London (3-4 November). For more information and to book tickets, visit fertilityshow.co.uk/London