A man's reproductive system has many functions, including ensuring his fertility and providing sex hormones that support his sexual well-being. Although problems that arise in the system are often treatable, several disorders can have potentially serious consequences. Discuss any questions you have about male reproductive problems with your family doctor or a specialist in urology.
In men, the testes reside in the scrotum. A system of ducts carries semen from the testes to the penis, where it's released at ejaculation. An infection can develop in any of these areas, potentially causing inflammation and pain in the testes or other structures. Infections can be caused either by bacteria or a virus. For example, prostatitis, a bacterial infection, can start in the prostate gland surrounding the urethra; in one of the testes, the infection is called orchitis. The mumps virus can be the cause of an infection in the system and may result in long-lasting fertility problems. Bacterial causes also include sexually transmitted diseases such as chlamydia or gonorrhea.
Benign Prostatic Hypertrophy
A disorder called benign prostatic hypertrophy involves enlargement of the prostate gland and generally affects older men, usually after the age of 50. In BPH, a man might experience a slow stream of urine, a feeling that his bladder doesn't empty fully or a need to strain to urinate. A non-cancerous condition whose cause is not well understood, BPH can often be relieved through medications or surgery when its symptoms become severe.
Cancer Symptoms and Statistics
Cancer can develop in any of the organs that make up the male reproductive system, but prostate cancer is the most common cancer among American men. Although the cause is still not clear, research published in the September 2013 issue of the journal "Prostate" concluded that changes in gene function related to aging account at least partly for higher rates of prostate cancer in older men. Symptoms include difficulty urinating and low back pain or pain with ejaculation, although symptoms may be absent, especially in early stages. Cancer may also develop in one of the testes, where it develops most often in men aged 20 to 39 and can cause pain, swelling or lumps in the scrotum or in the penis. Penile cancer, though rare, can be caused by the human papilloma virus, or HPV, the virus that also causes most cervical cancers in women.
Male infertility can develop because of genetic factors that cause low or absent sperm production, a blockage in the duct system, a hormonal imbalance that interferes with sperm production, or certain medications. A condition called varicocele, in which veins in the scrotum that carry blood back to the heart become enlarged, can also cause fertility problems. These veins help cool warm blood flowing into the scrotum, where sperm production depends on a reduced temperature. When blood flow in the veins is slow, the scrotum heats up and interferes with sperm production. Varicocele can often be treated successfully with surgery or other procedures.
The penis is the route through which both urine and sperm leave a man's body, and disorders in the penis may compromise either of these functions. A condition called erectile dysfunction, or ED, interferes with a man's ability to develop or sustain an erection, compromising his ability to have sex and father children. It has many different causes, including poorly managed diabetes, which can cause nerve problems in the penis, low levels of male hormones, side effects from certain prescription drugs such as antidepressants, or psychological factors such as stress or anxiety. Once the cause is identified, ED is often treatable with medication or other interventions.
Is This an Emergency?
- Yen and Jaffe's Reproductive Endocrinology; J.Strauss and R.Barbieri
- Urology Care Foundation: Epididymitis and Orchitis
- Prostate: Epigenetic Susceptibility Factors for Prostate Cancer With Aging
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Prostate Cancer Statistics
- Urology Care Foundation: Varicoceles
- International Journal of Impotence Research: Prevalence of Erectile Dysfunction: A Systematic Review of Population-Based Studies
- National Cancer Institute: Understanding Prostate Changes: A Health Guide for Men
- National Cancer Institute: What You Need to Know About Prostate Cancer
- Medline Plus: Male Reproductive System