Doctors warn that a certain spine surgery procedure carries a higher risk of infertility

May 31 2011
Men who are experiencing chronic back pain and are considering spine surgery should be informed of the risks to their fertility, according to new research. 

Scientists from the Stanford University School of Medicine say that although spinal fusion in general has been associated with infertility and erectile dysfunction risk - due to the fact that during the procedure some nerves can be cut or otherwise damaged - one particular type of fusion carries more risks that others.

The procedure is called BMP because it uses a bone growth protein called rhBMP-2. The protein is a bioengineered compound that has been implicated in other side effects, such as soft-tissue swelling and sterile cyst formation in the neck.

The study, which was published in The Spine Journal, evaluated spine surgery patients for retrograde ejaculation, in which semen is ejaculated not through the urethra but redirected to the bladder, which may sometimes cause infertility. Some of the patients had a back surgery that involved the use of rhBMP-2, while in the other cases surgeons used bone grafts instead of the protein.

While none of the patients treated with bone grafts experienced retrograde ejaculation, nearly 7 percent of those who used rhBMP-2 did.

"In my opinion, it is important that men who are considering having children have the opportunity to weigh the risks of the various available procedures so that they can make their best-informed decision," said Eugene J. Carragee, MD, a professor at the Stanford School of Medicine and the lead author of this study.

Experts estimate that recurring low back pain is the most common cause of disability in Americans younger than 45 years. In fact, approximately 4.6 million Americans will need back surgery at some point in their lives, according to the American Academy of Neurological Surgeons.