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Wellcome Image of the Month: Men’s Health

16 Nov, 2012

Abnormal human sperm

To coincide with ‘Movember’, this month’s focus is on men’s health. Behind the month-long moustache growing event is an important message: to raise awareness of men’s health issues, especially prostate and testicular cancers.

Cancer develops when there are problems in the mechanisms that control our cells. Old cells in the body are continually being removed and replaced with freshly generated ones. Cells grow and divide in a regulated way, and have to pass through several ‘checkpoints’ which monitor each stage for problems. A loss of control in part or all of this process can result in uncontrolled cell growth and subsequent development of cancer in, for example, the prostate gland or testes.

Prostate cancer is one of the most common male cancers in the UK, usually affecting men over the age of 50. The risk of developing it strongly increases with age and with a family history of the disease. Testicular cancer has a much lower incidence rate, accounting for just over 1 per cent of all male cancers. In contrast to prostate cancer, testicular cancer usually affects men under the age of 50.

This month’s image was taken by Professor David Becker from University College London’s Centre for Cell and Molecular Dynamics. It was captured by confocal microscopy, an imaging technique which generates optical slices through the sample to eliminate out-of-focus light and increase contrast. At the centre of the image is a group of normal human sperm which are surrounded by sperm with a variety of head (coloured red) and tail (coloured green) abnormalities.

There is some evidence to suggest that low fertility may be a risk factor for developing certain types of prostate cancer, and can increase the likelihood of developing testicular cancer by up to three times.

Henry Wellcome’s moustache

Movember started in Melbourne, Australia in 2003 and has since spread to countries across the world. In addition to focusing on male cancers, an additional priority in Australia, New Zealand and Canada is mental health. In 2011, Movember raised £79.3 million worldwide.

Of course, our very own Henry Wellcome sported a moustache that many Movember participants today would surely be proud of!


Cancer Research UK – CancerStats

Jacobsen, R., et al. (2000). Risk of testicular cancer in men with abnormal semen characteristics: cohort study BMJ, 321 (7264), 789-792 DOI: 10.1136/bmj.321.7264.789

Walsh, T., et al. (2009). Increased Risk of Testicular Germ Cell Cancer Among Infertile Men Archives of Internal Medicine, 169 (4) DOI: 10.1001/archinternmed.2008.562

Walsh, T., et al. (2010). Increased risk of high-grade prostate cancer among infertile men Cancer DOI: 10.1002/cncr.25075

Further information

Professor David Becker

Prostate Cancer UK

Institute of Cancer Research

Macmillan Cancer Support 

Image credits:
Dr David Becker, Wellcome Images (Abnormal human sperm)
Wellcome Library, London (Portrait of Henry S. Wellcome, 1890)

Wellcome Images is one of the world’s richest and most unusual collections, with themes ranging from medical and social history to contemporary healthcare and biomedical science. All our images are available in digital form so please click the link above if you would like to use the picture that features in this post, or to quickly find related ones. Many are free to use non-commercially under the terms of a Creative Commons licence and full details of the specific licence for each image are provided.


One Comment leave one →
  1. 5 Dec, 2012 7:56 am

    Very clever picture composition but the sperm in the centre group are also clearly abnormal, contrary to the description above.

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