Surgery or embolization for varicoceles in subfertile men

Maxima Medical Centre, De Run 4600, Veldhoven, Netherlands, 5504 DB.
Cochrane database of systematic reviews (Online) (Impact Factor: 6.03). 10/2012; 10(10):CD000479. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD000479.pub5
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT A varicocele is a meshwork of distended blood vessels in the scrotum, usually left-sided, due to dilatation of the spermatic vein. Although the concept that a varicocele causes male subfertility has been around for more than 50 years now, the mechanisms by which a varicocele would affect fertility have not yet been satisfactorily explained. Neither is there sufficient evidence to explain the mechanisms by which varicocelectomy would restore fertility. Furthermore, it has been questioned whether a causal relation exists at all between the distension of the pampiniform plexus (a network of many small veins found in the human male spermatic cord) and impairment of fertility.
To evaluate the effect of varicocele treatment on live birth and pregnancy rate in subfertile couples where the male has a varicocele.
We searched the Cochrane Menstrual Disorders and Subfertility Group Trials Register (12 September 2003 to January 2012), the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) in The Cochrane Library Issue 1, 2012), MEDLINE (January 1966 to January 2012), EMBASE (January 1985 to January 2012), PsycINFO (to Week 1 2012) and reference lists of articles. In addition, we handsearched specialist journals in the field from their first issue until 2012. We also checked cross-references, references from review articles and contacted researchers in the field.
Randomised controlled trials (RCTs) were included if they were relevant to the clinical question posed. If they reported pregnancy rates or live birth rates as an outcome measure, and if they reported data in treated (surgical ligation or radiological embolization of the internal spermatic vein) compared to untreated or placebo groups. Two authors independently screened potentially relevant trials. Any differences of opinion were resolved by consensus (none occurred for this review).
Ten studies met the inclusion criteria for the review. For one study we had only data from a published abstract. All ten studies only included men from couples with subfertility problems; one excluded men with sperm counts less than 5 million per mL and one excluded men with sperm counts less than 2 million per mL, with or without progressive motility of less than 10%. Two trials involving clinical varicoceles included some men with normal semen analysis. Three studies specifically addressed only men with subclinical varicoceles. Studies were excluded from meta-analysis if they made comparisons other than those specified above.
The meta-analysis included 894 men. No studies reported live birth. The combined fixed-effect odds ratio (OR) of the 10 studies for the outcome of pregnancy was 1.47 (95% confidence interval (CI) 1.05 to 2.05, very low quality evidence), favouring the intervention. The number needed to treat for an additional beneficial outcome was 17, suggesting benefit of varicocele treatment over expectant management for pregnancy rate in subfertile couples in whom varicocele in the man was the only abnormal finding. Omission of the studies including men with normal semen analysis and subclinical varicocele, some of which had semen analysis improvement as the primary outcome rather than live birth or pregnancy rate, was the subject of a planned subgroup analysis. The outcome of the subgroup analysis (five studies) also favoured treatment, with a combined OR 2.39 (95% CI 1.56 to 3.66). The number needed to treat for an additional beneficial outcome was 7. The evidence was suggestive rather than conclusive, as the main analysis was subject to fairly high statistical heterogeneity (I(2) = 67%) and findings were no longer significant when a random-effects model was used or when analysis was restricted to higher quality studies.
There is evidence suggesting that treatment of a varicocele in men from couples with otherwise unexplained subfertility may improve a couple's chance of pregnancy. However, findings are inconclusive as the quality of the available evidence is very low and more research is needed with live birth or pregnancy rate as the primary outcome.

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Available from: Johannes Evers, Nov 25, 2014
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    • "They showed consistently that there is no beneficial effect of varicocele treatment on a couple's chance of conception [9]. A more recent meta-analysis published in 2012 suggested that varicocele repair in men from couples with otherwise unexplained subfertility may improve pregnancy outcome, although this finding is inconclusive owing to the low quality of the available data [10]. The aforementioned meta-analyses included data from surgical repair and percutaneous embolization. "
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    ABSTRACT: To elucidate the impact of surgical varicocele repair on the pregnancy rate through new meta-analyses of randomized clinical trials that compared surgical varicocele repair and observation. The PubMed and Embase online databases were searched for studies released before December 2012. References were manually reviewed, and two researchers independently extracted the data. To assess the quality of the studies, the Cochrane risk of bias as a quality assessment tool for randomized controlled trials was applied. Seven randomized clinical trials were included in our meta-analyses, all of which compared pregnancy outcomes between surgical varicocele repair and control. There were differences in enrollment criteria among the studies. Four studies included patients with clinical varicocele, but three studies enrolled patients with subclinical varicocele. Meanwhile, four trials enrolled patients with impaired semen quality only, but the other three trials did not. In a meta-analysis of all seven trials, a forest plot using the random-effects model showed an odds ratio (OR) of 1.90 (95% confidence interval [CI], 0.77 to 4.66; p=0.1621). However, for subanalysis of three studies that included patients with clinical varicocele and abnormal semen parameters, the fixed-effects pooled OR was significant (OR, 4.15; 95% CI, 2.31 to 7.45; p<0.001), favoring varicocelectomy. Varicocelectomy for male subfertility is proven effective in men with clinical varicocele and impaired semen quality. Therefore, surgical repair should be offered as the first-line treatment of clinical varicocele in subfertile men.
    Korean journal of urology 10/2013; 54(10):703-9. DOI:10.4111/kju.2013.54.10.703
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    • "(Evers and Collins, 2003). This concept is supported further by repeated comprehensive analysis in Cochrane Database Systematic Reviews 2004 (Evers and Collins, 2004) where the reviewers concluded from the results of eight controlled prospective randomized studies 'indicating no benefit of varicocele treatment over expectant management in subfertile couples in whom varicocele in the man is the only abnormal finding'. These results contradict our findings, but it is not surprising since, according to usual practice, the vast majority of patients in these studies were treated partially, on the left side only. "
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    ABSTRACT: Varicocele is a bilateral vascular disease, involving a network of collaterals and small, retroperitoneal bypasses. The right and the left testicular venous drainage systems are complex and not identical to each other. It was considered a predominantly unilateral (left-sided) disease. Its pathophysiology has not been clearly delineated and the treatments offered do not seem to be effective. The medical literature is replete with articles demonstrating inconsistent and even contradictory results which have led clinicians to dissociate varicocele from male infertility. Since male fertility is preserved with only one healthy testis, male infertility perforce represents bilateral testicular dysfunction. This poses an enigma to clinicians: How can left-sided varicocele causes bilateral testicular dysfunction? We investigated the internal spermatic veins by venography to understand testicular damage due to varicocele. A total of 740 venographies of the internal spermatic veins (ISVs) were performed, with sclerotherapy of the ISV as treatment for varicocele. Epon-embedded testicular tissue sections were used to identify blood stagnation in the testis. Varicocele is predominantly a bilateral disease in 84% of cases, associated with collaterals and retroperitoneal venous bypasses in 70% in the left side and 75% in the right side. Histopathology demonstrate stagnation in the testicular microcirculation and hypoxic-ischaemic degenerative changes in all cells' types in the sperms' production site. Based on our findings (i) varicocele is a bilateral disease; (ii) the disease is expressed earlier in the left side and is more intense because the blood column is longer in the left side than the right; (iii) partial treatment to the left side only and ignoring bypasses is not adequate to correct the problem; (iv) hypoxia leading to ischaemic damage to both testes is the effect of varicocele due to hydrostatic pressures in the impaired venous drainage system, which exceeds the pressures in the testicular arterial microcirculation due to blood columns produced in the disease; (v) hydrostatic pressure does not depend on vein diameter but on blood column height, only; and (vi) thermography alone or combined with ultrasonography with special attention to the bilaterality of the disease are the best non-invasive tools for its detection.
    Human Reproduction 10/2005; 20(9):2614-9. DOI:10.1093/humrep/dei089 · 4.57 Impact Factor
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