How does the natural history of varicoceles differ between adolescents and adults?

Updated: Jan 02, 2019
  • Author: Wesley M White, MD; Chief Editor: Bradley Fields Schwartz, DO, FACS  more...
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The results of treating varicoceles in adolescents are not as clear as the results of treating varicoceles in adults. Although varicoceles first become apparent in adolescence, their natural history and its timeline for the onset of detrimental effects on testicular function remain unclear. Varicoceles occur in approximately 10-15% of the fertile male population, but not all varicoceles impair sperm function, overall semen quality, or fertility. [13, 11, 14]

Important determinations to be made regarding varicoceles in adolescents are whether (1) the varicocele is a progressive lesion and (2) early repair of the varicocele would prevent infertility.

In 1977, Lipshultz and Corriere suggested that varicoceles were associated with testicular atrophy that was progressive with age. [15] They also observed that testicular biopsy specimens taken from prepubertal boys with varicoceles already revealed histologic abnormalities. However, Diamond et al from Harvard have challenged this concept. [16]

In 1987, Kass and Belman were the first to demonstrate a significant increase in testicular volume after varicocele repair in adolescents. [17] Although Kass and Belman noted catch-up growth, they did not study semen parameters. Collecting a semen sample from an adolescent is not always easy; consequently, studying the effects of a varicocele and the benefits of treatment is difficult.

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