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Clinical Policy Bulletin:
Varicocele: Selected Treatments
Number: 0413


Aetna considers percutaneous embolization (by means of balloon or metallic coil) medically necessary for the treatment of varicocele for any of the following conditions:

  1. Adolescents with grade 2 or 3 varicoceles associated with ipsilateral testicular growth retardation; or
  2. Males with infertility problems who have decreased sperm motility and lower sperm concentrations; or
  3. Post-surgical (ligation) recurrence of varicoceles; or
  4. Scrotal pain associated with varicoceles.

Aetna considers percutaneous embolization of varicoceles for persons who do not meet these criteria experimental and investigational.

Aetna considers microsurgical varicocelectomy an acceptable alternative method of treating a varicocele when any of the afore-mentioned criteria is met.


Varicoceles (dilations of the pampiniform venous plexus) are found in 10 to 15 % of the male population and they occur predominantly on the left side.  The etiology may be a longer left spermatic vein with its right-angle insertion into the left renal vein and/or absence of valves, which results in a higher hydrostatic pressure in the left spermatic vein causing dilatation.  Also, the left renal vein may be compressed between the superior mesenteric artery and the aorta.  This “nutcracker phenomenon” may result in elevated pressure in the left testicular venous system.  Moreover, the incidence of varicocele in men with impaired fertility is about 30 %; varicoceles are the most common surgically correctable cause of male infertility.  A clinical grading system classifies varicoceles into 3 grades: (i) grade 1 (small) -- palpable only during a Valsalva maneuver, (ii) grade 2 (moderate) -- palpable without the need of the Valsalva maneuver, and (iii) grade 3 (large) -- visible.

Although varicoceles can be diagnosed by a thorough physical examination, ultrasonography is the most practical and accurate non-invasive method in diagnosing this condition.  Surgical ligation (varicocelectomy) is the conventional approach in managing varicoceles.  However, percutaneous embolization by means of balloon or metallic coil has been shown to be a safe and effective alternative to ligation in treating varicoceles.  Embolization (of spermatic veins) of varicoceles in males with semen abnormalities has been demonstrated to improve sperm count and motility in up to 75 % of patients, and reported pregnancy rates after ablation of varicoceles vary from 30 to 60 %.  Furthermore, embolization therapy has been reported to increase testicular size in adolescents with testicular hypotrophy.

Polito and colleagues (2004) stated that the impact of varicocele on male infertility is still controversial since its role on the impairment of semen quality has never been fully demonstrated.  These researchers studied a series of young adult males (n = 426) undergoing percutaneous treatment of varicocele and semen parameters were evaluated at baseline and 12 months of follow-up.  They concluded that the correction of varicocele in young adults is not a major indication when semen alteration is the only clinical problem.  This is in agreement with the findings of Nabi et al (2004) who compared the semen quality in men with or without pregnancy after percutaneous embolization of varicoceles in the management of infertility (n = 102).  They concluded that varicocele embolization is a technically feasible, minimally invasive, outpatient procedure that improves semen quality significantly in patients with a pre-embolization semen density of 10 to 30 million/ml.  However, no correlation was found between the improvements in semen quality and the pregnancy rate.

Bechara et al (2009) compared the treatment outcome of percutaneous embolization treatment versus laparoscopic varicocelectomy in patients with symptomatic varicoceles.  Patients with varicoceles undergoing either laparoscopic varicocelectomy or percutaneous coil embolization of the testicular vein during a recent 5-year period were analyzed.  Treatment outcome and hospital costs of these two minimally invasive treatment modalities were compared.  A total of 41 patients underwent percutaneous coil embolization of the testicular vein, which were compared with a cohort of 43 patients who underwent laparoscopic varicocelectomy.  Technical success in interventional and laparoscopic treatment was 95 % and 100 %, respectively.  The mean operative time or procedural time was 63 +/- 13 mins and 52 +/- 25 mins for interventional and laparoscopic cohorts (not significant), respectively.  Embolization treatment resulted in 2 recurrent varicoceles (4.8 %) compared to 1 patient following laparoscopic repair (2.3 %, not significant).  Embolization treatment was associated with a lower complication rate than laparoscopic repair (9.7 % versus 16.3 %, p = 0.03).  Regarding cost analysis, no significant difference in hospital cost was noted between the interventional or laparoscopic treatment strategies.  Both laparoscopic varicocelectomy and coil embolization are effective treatment modalities for varicoceles.  With lower treatment complication rates in the interventional treatment group, coil embolization of the testicular vein offers treatment advantage compared with laparoscopic repair in patients with varicoceles.

Ayechu-Diaz et al (2009) stated that there are still doubts as to the most suitable criteria when considering surgery as the indication and optimal treatment for adolescent varicocele.  These investigators reviewed the hospital and primary health care histories of patients diagnosed by ultrasound for varicocele over the last 7 years.  Data were taken from computerized clinical histories and hard copy back-up material stored and processed in computer format.  They studied 135 cases (mean age of 12.8 years).  A total of 125 were referred for scrotal swelling or as a result of chance detection, except for 10 patients who reported pain or scrotal asymmetry; 73 underwent surgery and 62 continued as controls over the study period.  The surgical indication was significant progressive asymmetry in testicular volume (n = 28), high grade varicocele (n = 41) as well as other reasons (n = 4).  These researchers undertook percutaneous embolization in 44 patients (with a 66 % relapse rate) and laparoscopic section of the spermatic cord with no arterial preservation in 29 (no relapses but 7 post-surgery hydroceles).  No testicles were lost.  At the end of the study 10 children continued as controls, 34 were discharged after recovery, 56 were referred to urology due to their age group, and 35 were lost to the study.  The authors concluded that in the controversy over the treatment of varicocele, their experience showed a high degree of relapses after embolization.  Section of the spermatic vessels (including the artery) with no lymphatic preservation is highly effective but involves 27 % post-surgical hydroceles, usually self-limiting (only 1 patient had to undergo surgery later), with no testicular atrophy or other complications.  These investigators prefer complete laparoscopic section of the spermatic pedicle to embolization; but it would be advisable to introduce modifications to avoid post-surgical hydrocele.  Embolization must be reserved for patients with 1 testicle or with bilateral disease.

Storm and colleagues (2010) noted that post-operative hydrocele development is a frustrating complication of varicocele surgical repair.  To avoid this complication, these investigators began to offer percutaneous embolization as a treatment option.  They presented their initial experience with this technique.  There were 27 patients with a mean age of 16 years (range of 13 to 19 years).  Indications included pain (48 %), varicocele size (30 %) and persistent testicular asymmetry (22 %).  Four patients had experienced failure of a previous surgical repair.  Follow-up data were available for 21 patients (mean of 9 months).  The varicocele resolved in 19 patients (91 %) with no evidence of hydrocele formation in any of the boys.  There was resolution of pain in all patients for whom this was the indication for the procedure.  In the 2 failures, access to the lower spermatic vein was not possible owing to the number and tortuosity of the vessels.  The authors concluded that percutaneous embolization and sclerotherapy represent a truly minimally invasive treatment with low morbidity, minimal pain and rapid recovery.  In the authors' experience, since lymphatic channels are completely avoided, there appears to be no risk of hydrocele formation.

Kondoh et al (2010) stated that surgical ligation for varicocele is primarily used in the management of male infertility patients.  However, effectiveness of the ligation for painful varicocele is still controversial.  These investigators reviewed records from 18 patients (average age of 17.8 years) who underwent varicocele ligation done for pain at the authors' institution from June 1999 to May 2010.  The varicocele was on the left side and was grade III in 15 cases and grade II in 3 cases.  The pain was classified into 3 types: (i) discomfort, (ii) dull pain, and (iii) sharp pain.  Microsurgical varicocelectomy was done with inguinal or subinguinal approach.  Evaluation of post-operative pain was available in 17 patients, and 15 patients (88 %) reported complete resolution of the pain with averaged follow-up duration of 11 months (3 to 53 months).  The authors concluded that microsurgical varicocelectomy using the inguinal or subinguinal approach was an effective treatment modality for varicocele-associated pain.

Seo et al (2010) evaluated the improvement of seminal characteristics and pregnancy rates after microsurgical varicocelectomy in men with subclinical varicocele.  A total of 143 patients with a subclinical left-sided varicocele were included in this study.  Patients who agreed to microsurgical varicocelectomy (n = 25, surgery group), medical treatment with L-carnitine (n = 93 drug group), and those who did not agree to any treatment (n = 25, observation group) were enrolled.  Semen characteristics were re-evaluated twice 6 months after treatment.  The natural pregnancy rates were estimated by telephone interview between 1 and 2 years after treatment.  In the surgery group, sperm counts improved significantly after microsurgical varicocelectomy.  In the drug group, however, sperm parameters did not significantly improve after treatment.  Natural pregnancy rates were 60.0 % in the surgery group, 34.5 % in the drug group, and 18.7 % in the observation group.  The natural pregnancy rate of the surgery group was higher than the other groups, and there were statistically significant differences among the 3 groups.  The authors concluded that surgical treatment is the best option for management of subclinical varicocele.

In a prospective, non-masked, parallel-group randomized, controlled trial, Abdel-Meguid and colleagues (2011) examined if varicocele treatment is superior or inferior to no treatment in male infertility from an evidence-based perspective.  Married men 20 to 39 years of age who had experienced infertility greater than or equal to 1 year, had palpable varicoceles, and with at least 1 impaired semen parameter (e.g., sperm concentration less than 20 million/ml, progressive motility less than 50 %, or normal morphology less than 30 %) were eligible.  Exclusions included subclinical or recurrent varicoceles, normal semen parameters, and azoospermia.  Sample size analysis suggested 68 participants per arm.  Participants were randomly allocated to observation (the control arm [CA]) or subinguinal microsurgical varicocelectomy (the treatment arm [TA]).  Semen analyses were obtained at baseline (3 analyses) and at follow-up months 3, 6, 9, and 12.  The mean of each sperm parameter at baseline and follow-ups was determined.  These researchers measured the spontaneous pregnancy rate (the primary outcome), changes from baseline in mean semen parameters, and the occurrence of adverse events (AE-the secondary outcomes) during 12-month follow-up; p < 0.05 was considered significant.  Analysis included 145 participants (CA: n = 72; TA: n = 73), with a mean age plus or minus standard deviation of 29.3 +/- 5.7 in the CA and 28.4 +/- 5.7 in the TA (p = 0.34).  Baseline characteristics in both arms were comparable.  Spontaneous pregnancy was achieved in 13.9 % (CA) versus 32.9 % (TA), with an odds ratio of 3.04 (95 % confidence interval [CI]: 1.33 to 6.95) and a number needed to treat of 5.27 patients (95 % CI: 1.55 to 8.99).  In CA within-arm analysis, none of semen parameters revealed significant changes from baseline (sperm concentration [p = 0.18], progressive motility [p = 0.29], and normal morphology [p = 0.05]).  Conversely, in TA within-arm analysis, the mean of all semen parameters improved significantly in follow-up versus baseline (p < 0.0001).  In between-arm analysis, all semen parameters improved significantly in the TA versus CA (p < 0.0001).  No AEs were reported.  The authors concluded that these findings provided level 1b evidence of the superiority of varicocelectomy over observation in infertile men with palpable varicoceles and impaired semen quality, with increased odds of spontaneous pregnancy and improvements in semen characteristics within 1-year of follow-up.

Diegidio and colleagues (2010) reviewed all the various techniques and their results and efficiencies to provide practicing urologists with some guidance for choice of technique.  These investigators discussed improvements of varicocelectomy techniques in the last 15 years and their impact on results of surgery.  Pregnancy rates were highest with microsurgical subinguinal technique.  Varicocele recurrence rates were lowest with microsurgical subinguinal technique.  Hydrocele formation rates were lowest with microsurgical inguinal technique.  Surgical complications were highest in the laparoscopic technique.  Varicocelectomy by itself or in conjunction with in-vitro fertilization is cost-effective.  The authors concluded that microsurgical subinguinal or microsurgical inguinal techniques offer best outcomes; and varicocelectomy is a cost- effective treatment modality for infertility.

The European Association of Urology (EAU)'s guidelines on pediatric urology (Tekgul et al, 2009) stated that for the treatment of varicocele in children and adolescents, surgical intervention is based on ligation or occlusion of the internal spermatic veins.  Ligation is performed at different levels: (i) inguinal (or subinguinal) microsurgical ligation, and (ii) suprainguinal ligation, using open or laparoscopic techniques.  The advantage of the former is the lower invasiveness of the procedure, while the advantage of the latter is a considerably lower number of veins to be ligated and safety of the incidental division of the internal spermatic artery at the suprainguinal level.  Moreover, lymphatic-sparing varicocelectomy is preferred to prevent hydrocele formation and testicular hypertrophy development and to achieve a better testicular function according to the luteinizing hormone-releasing hormone stimulation test.  The methods of choice are subinguinal or inguinal microsurgical (microscopic) repairs, or suprainguinal open or laparoscopic lymphatic-sparing repairs.

Furthermore, the EAU's guidelines on male infertility (Dohle et al, 2010) stated that several treatments are available for varicocele, and that the type of intervention chosen depends mainly on the therapist’s experience.  Morevoer, an accompanying table in the EAU guideline reported a lower recurrence rate (0.8 % to 4.0 %) with microsurgical varicocelectomy than with alternative approaches (3.0 % to 29.0 %).

CPT Codes / HCPCS Codes / ICD-9 Codes
Other CPT codes related to the CPB:
55530 - 55540
ICD-9 codes covered if selection criteria are met:
257.2 Other testicular hypofunction
456.4 Scrotal varices
606.0 Azoospermia
606.1 Oligospermia
Other ICD-9 codes related to the CPB:
608.89 Other specified disorders of male genital organs
608.9 Unspecified disorder of male genital organs

The above policy is based on the following references:
  1. Cornud F, Belin X, Amar E, et al. Varicocele: Strategies in diagnosis and treatment. Eur Radiol. 1999;9(3):536-545.
  2. Lukkarinen O, Hellstrom P, Leinonen S, Juntunen K. Is varicocele treatment useful? Ann Chir Gynaecol. 1997;86(1):40-44.
  3. Shlansky-Goldberg RD, VanArsdalen KN, Rutter CM, et al. Percutaneous varicocele embolization versus surgical ligation for the treatment of infertility: Changes in seminal parameters and pregnancy outcomes. J Vasc Interv Radiol. 1997;8(5):759-767.
  4. Rivilla F, Casillas JG. Testicular size following embolization therapy for paediatric left varicocele. Scand J Urol Nephrol. 1997;31(1):63-65.
  5. Punekar SV, Prem AR, Ridhorkar VR, et al. Post-surgical recurrent varicocele: Efficacy of internal spermatic venography and steel-coil embolization. Br J Urol. 1996;77(1):124-128.
  6. Rivilla F, Casillas JG, Gallego J, Lezana AH. Percutaneous venography and embolization of the internal spermatic vein by spring coil for treatment of the left varicocele in children. J Pediatr Surg. 1995;30(4):523-527.
  7. Zuckerman AM, Mitchell SE, Venbrux AC, et al. Percutaneous varicocele occlusion: Long-term follow-up. J Vasc Interv Radiol. 1994;5(2):315-319.
  8. Demas BE, Hricak H, McClure RD. Varicoceles: Radiologic diagnosis and treatment. Radiol Clin North Am. 1991;29(3):619-627.
  9. Kuroiwa T, Hasuo K, Yasumori K, et al. Transcatheter embolization of testicular vein for varicocele testis. Acta Radiol. 1991;32(4):311-314.
  10. Wheatley JK, Bergman WA, Green B, Walther MM. Transvenous occlusion of clinical and subclinical varicoceles. Urology. 1991;37(4):362-365.
  11. Sigman M, Howards SS. Male infertility. In: Campbell's Urology. 7th Ed. Vol. II. PC Walsh, et al., eds. Philadelphia, PA: W.B. Saunders Co.; 1998; Ch. 43:1287-1330.
  12. Alqahtani A, Yazbeck S, Dubois J, et al. Percutaneous embolization of varicocele in children: A Canadian experience. J Pediatr Surg. 2002;37(5):783-785.
  13. Tay KH, Martin ML, Mayer AL, et al. Selective spermatic venography and varicocele embolization in men with circumaortic left renal veins. J Vasc Interv Radiol. 2002;13(7):739-742.
  14. Evers JL, Collins JA, Clarke J. Surgery or embolisation for varicocele in subfertile men. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2009;(1):CD000479.
  15. Sivanathan C, Abernethy LJ. Retrograde embolisation of varicocele in the paediatric age group: A review of 10 years' practice. Ann R Coll Surg Engl. 2003;85(1):50-51.
  16. Polito M Jr, Muzzonigro G, Centini R, et al. Percutaneous therapy of varicocele: Effects on semen parameters in young adults. Urol Int. 2004;72(2):150-153.
  17. Nabi G, Asterlings S, Greene DR, Marsh RL. Percutaneous embolization of varicoceles: Outcomes and correlation of semen improvement with pregnancy. Urology. 2004;63(2):359-363.
  18. Gat Y, Bachar GN, Everaert K, et al. Induction of spermatogenesis in azoospermic men after internal spermatic vein embolization for the treatment of varicocele. Hum Reprod. 2005;20(4):1013-1017.
  19. Wagner L, Tostain J; Comite Andrologie de l'Association Française d'Urologie. Varicocele and male infertility: AFU 2006 guidelines. Prog Urol. 2007;17(1):12-17.
  20. French DB, Desai NR, Agarwal A. Varicocele repair: Does it still have a role in infertility treatment? Curr Opin Obstet Gynecol. 2008;20(3):269-274.
  21. Bechara CF, Weakley SM, Kougias P, et al. Percutaneous treatment of varicocele with microcoil embolization: Comparison of treatment outcome with laparoscopic varicocelectomy. Vascular. 2009;17 Suppl 3:S129-S136.
  22. Ayechu-Díaz A, Oscoz-Lizarbe M, Pérez-Martínez A, et al. Treatment of adolescent varicocele: Is percutaneous embolization better? Cir Pediatr. 2009;22(3):134-138.
  23. Storm DW, Hogan MJ, Jayanthi VR. Initial experience with percutaneous selective embolization: A truly minimally invasive treatment of the adolescent varicocele with no risk of hydrocele development. J Pediatr Urol. 2010;6(6):567-571.
  24. Tekgül S, Riedmiller H, Gerharz E, et al. Guidelines on paediatric urology. European Association of Urology 2009. Available at: Accessed April 16, 2011.
  25. Dohle GR, Diemer T, Giwercman A, et al. Guidelines on male infertility. European Association of Urology 2010. Avilable at: Accessed April 16, 2011.
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  28. Abdel-Meguid TA, Al-Sayyad A, Tayib A, Farsi HM. Does varicocele repair improve male infertility? An evidence-based perspective from a randomized, controlled trial. Eur Urol. 2011;59(3):455-461.
  29. Diegidio P, Jhaveri JK, Ghannam S, et al. Review of current varicocelectomy techniques and their outcomes. BJU Int. 2011;108(7):1157-1172.
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  31. Li F, Yamaguchi K, Okada K, et al. Significant improvement of sperm DNA quality after microsurgical repair of varicocele. Syst Biol Reprod Med. 2012;58(5):274-27.
  32. Ding H, Tian J, Du W, et al. Open non-microsurgical, laparoscopic or open microsurgical varicocelectomy for male infertility: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. BJU Int. 2012;110(10):1536-1542.
  33. Shi Q, Zhu H, Wang XS, et al. Comparison of 3 microsurgical approaches to the treatment of varicocele: Report of 120 cases. Zhonghua Nan Ke Xue. 2013;19(10):931-934.
  34. Masson P, Brannigan RE. The varicocele. Urol Clin North Am. 2014;41(1):129-144.
  35. Wang C, Swerdloff RS. Treatment of male infertility. Last reviewed February 2014. UpToDate Inc., Waltham, MA.

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Copyright Aetna Inc. All rights reserved. Clinical Policy Bulletins are developed by Aetna to assist in administering plan benefits and constitute neither offers of coverage nor medical advice. This Clinical Policy Bulletin contains only a partial, general description of plan or program benefits and does not constitute a contract. Aetna does not provide health care services and, therefore, cannot guarantee any results or outcomes. Participating providers are independent contractors in private practice and are neither employees nor agents of Aetna or its affiliates. Treating providers are solely responsible for medical advice and treatment of members. This Clinical Policy Bulletin may be updated and therefore is subject to change.
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