Fertility Preservation for Men: What You Must Know
If you or your male partner have been diagnosed with cancer, you may wonder “will we ever be able to have children?”. Fertility preservation for men is a new field of medicine that allows men to preserve their sperm and/or retain their fertility so they can still have children after cancer treatment.
Is male fertility possible after cancer?
Many factors determine a man’s fertility potential after cancer treatment. His ability to impregnate his partner will be predicted by the following:
- His age
- The type of cancer
- The type of cancer treatment
For many men, it can take several years after cancer treatment ends before healthy sperm production resumes. Other men may become permanently sterile after cancer treatment.
Not all cancers will cause infertility, unless perhaps it’s testicular cancer. Rather, it is far more likely that cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiation will affect a man's fertility. This is why it is important to discuss all possible fertility preservation options with a doctor before cancer treatment begins.
Fertility preservation before cancer treatment begins
Having said that, men do have a pretty easy and inexpensive way to preserve their fertility before cancer treatment begins. Quite simply, all a man has to do is donate and freeze his own sperm.
How to freeze sperm
To protect male fertility during cancer treatment, simply pay to have a sperm sample frozen at a sperm bank. Be sure to bank the sperm before cancer treatment begins because chemotherapy and radiation treatments can be harmful to sperm cells.
It may be best to bank several samples of semen, with each sample taken several days apart. While this may postpone the cancer treatment for a few days, it may be beneficial later in life when it comes time to have children.
Securing the sperm sample
If your partner is unable to provide a sperm sample in his ejaculate, a doctor may be able to do a biopsy of the testicles and withdraw sperm directly from them.
Thanks to modern technology, only a few sperm are needed to achieve pregnancy. During high-tech treatments like in vitro fertilization (IVF) with intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), many couples are able to conceive with just one sperm.
More fertility preservation options for men
Other exploratory fertility preservation techniques include the following:
- Your doctor may prescribe hormonal medications to protect the testes and sperm from the harmful effects of chemotherapy and radiation.
- Testicular tissue may be removed before cancer treatment and then repositioned later. This type of fertility preservation is in the research phase and would used for boys who undergo cancer treatment before puberty, since they are unable to produce sperm samples.
- During radiation treatment your doctor can minimize the dose of radiation used. Or, your doctor can try to aim the radiation away from your reproductive organs to protect your fertility. Unfortunately this technique may not work for young males. Radiation treatments near the pelvic region can affect a young male’s development before he reaches puberty, leading to future fertility problems.
Good news for male cancer patients
Fertility preservation for men is quite simple. Your partner might consider banking a sperm sample now since it is relatively easy and inexpensive. Later, he can choose whether to use his sperm, donate them to another individual trying to conceive, or have them disposed of. You may also be relieved to know that a man's hormone functioning and sexual functioning are often normal after cancer treatment.
- American Society of Clinical Oncology: What to know: ASCO's Guideline on Fertility Preservation.
- American Society of Reproductive Medicine: Patient's Fact Sheet: Cancer and Fertility Preservation.
- Johns Hopkins Medicine: Risks of Infertility. Options for Men Before Treatment.
- Oncofertility Consortium: What can my doctor do to protect my fertility? What is "banking" sperm? How can cancer affect fertility? What if I decide to do nothing to preserve my fertility before undergoing cancer treatment?