It’s devastating for a man to find out he has cancer. The shock of the diagnosis and concerns about stopping the cancer’s progression may put another issue on the backburner – fertility. According to a recent study in Annals of Oncology, some men with cancer don’t receive proper counseling about fertility issues before undergoing treatment for cancer, which could affect their ability to have a family in the future.
Cancer and Infertility: An Issue That Needs to Be Addressed
Cancer therapy, including radiation and chemotherapy, can reduce a man’s ability to make healthy sperm. The effects of radiation on sperm counts vary depending upon how close to the testicles the radiation is focused and how high the dose is. What about chemotherapy? The effects of chemotherapy drugs on fertility is greater when higher doses are used for longer periods of time and varies with the type of cancer drugs used.
In general, sperm counts are lower after cancer chemotherapy, and some men have marked reductions in the number and quality of sperm they produce. Plus, it can take many months or even years for sperm counts to return to normal levels – if they do at all. Less commonly, chemotherapy lowers testosterone levels, which reduces sex drive and fertility. This is more likely to occur in men who have testicular cancer where radiation is directed at the testicles.
Fertility and Cancer: What’s the Solution?
Young men with cancer who plan on undergoing radiation or chemotherapy should talk to their doctor about banking their sperm before receiving cancer treatment. In this way sperm can be kept viable and used for conception if sperm counts don’t return to normal after cancer treatment. Once a man has given the sperm bank specimens, it only costs several hundred dollars a year to store them. It’s a small price to pay to maintain the ability to have a family.
Doctors usually advise men not to try to conceive for at least a year after cancer treatment since the therapy can damage sperm cells and increase the risk of birth defects and other fetal problems. Banking sperm before getting treatment prevents this problem.
Cancer and Infertility: The Bottom Line?
Men with cancer, especially younger men, should talk to their doctor about banking their sperm before undergoing cancer chemotherapy or radiation treatment. Not all doctors discuss this issue with patients, so be proactive and bring the topic up. It could mean the difference in being able to conceive after cancer treatment – or not.
Eurekalert.org. “Many male cancer patients are missing out on sperm banking”