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Barriers to use of semen analysis in the adolescent with a varicocele: Survey of patient, parental, and practitioner attitudes.

BACKGROUND: The American Society for Reproductive Medicine Practice Committee recommends obtaining a semen analysis (SA) in pediatric patients presenting with a varicocele in the absence of significant testicular atrophy. Among infertile adults with a varicocele, surgery is indicated in the presence of abnormal semen analysis regardless of testicular atrophy. Despite these two statements, semen analysis is not widely utilized by pediatric urologists in the USA managing a patient with a varicocele.

OBJECTIVE: We explored the attitudes of patients, parents, and practitioners toward SA to identify potential barriers to the use of SA in the evaluation of the adolescent varicocele.

STUDY DESIGN: We conducted a survey of Society for Pediatric Urology members regarding their management of adolescent varicoceles, with focus on the utilization of SA. The survey consisted of 14 multiple choice questions and two open-ended questions regarding use of SA in practice, barriers to its use, indications for varicocelectomy, and demographics. We also surveyed patients presenting for initial evaluation of a varicocele, as well as their parents, regarding their knowledge about SA and their attitude towards obtaining it. Statistical analysis was performed (p < 0.05 significant).

RESULTS: The practitioner survey response rate was 53% (168). Only 13.1% routinely incorporated SA in their practice, with 48% of all responders having some degree of discomfort asking for a SA. Of practitioners who cited discomfort, 90% never order a SA for patients with varicoceles. From the 46% of physicians who ordered a SA, we noted significant practice variability (see Figure). The patient/parent survey demonstrated that this population was uncomfortable with the notion of obtaining a SA, with most patients/parents citing lack of knowledge about SA as the main barrier. Patient and parent knowledge was found to correlate.

DISCUSSION: This study uniquely addresses an issue that has not been discussed in the adolescent varicocele literature to date. It can increase awareness of the option of incorporating SA data in management of the adolescent who presents with a varicocele.

CONCLUSION: Recognizing and then breaking through the barriers to obtaining a SA, would improve patient care, providing a direct assessment of the impact of a varicocele on fertility potential and thus best determining which patients require surveillance versus surgical intervention. This study suggested that the barriers to SA are surmountable.

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