Cancer Treatment and Male Infertility

While a cancer diagnosis can be startling, depressing, and stressful, a cancer diagnosis does not have to be the end of the world. Today, male cancer survival rates are higher than ever, and cancer survivors often lead happy, healthy lives once treatment ends. Still, cancer treatment brings challenges for many men. For some men, one of these troubling cancer treatment side effects is male infertility.

Ask a specialist about cancer and male fertility

Will cancer make me infertile?
You may have thought that parenthood was a given, but after a shocking cancer diagnosis, you are not so confident that you will be able to father children in the future. If you have cancer and are concerned about male infertility, have faith. Many men do remain fertile and are able to father children following cancer treatment. The likelihood that cancer treatment will cause fertility problems for you depends on several factors, including:

  • Your age
  • The type of cancer you have and the body parts affected
  • The type (and dose) of treatment you receive

To learn more about your risk for male infertility following cancer treatment, talk to your doctor. Your doctor can let you know exactly how your cancer treatment might affect your fertility.

Which cancer treatments cause male infertility?
Some cancer treatments lead to male fertility problems, while others do not. Treatments most likely to cause male fertility problems include:

  • Radiation treatment of the testicles
  • Chemotherapy drug treatments, including alkylators
  • Surgical removal of the testes, prostate, bladder, or pelvic lymph nodes

Remember that the type and dose of treatment you receive determines your ability to have children following treatment.

Male fertility following cancer treatment
There are several ways that cancer treatments affect male fertility. Some cancer treatments, including chemotherapy and radiation, damage sperm or bring sperm and semen production to a halt. And if you don't have healthy sperm, you will not be able to make healthy babies. Still, even if your sperm production stops after treatment, you may not be infertile forever. Sperm production may return for some men within several years after cancer treatment ends.

However, it can be hard to predict which men will have return of sperm production, so many men opt to bank sperm BEFORE cancer treatments, just to be safe.

Male fertility preservation

So what can you do if cancer treatment is about to leave you infertile forever? If you are facing cancer treatment and are concerned about your fertility, ask your doctor about fertility preservation. Fertility preservation can increase your chances of fathering children after cancer treatment ends. The best option for male fertility preservation is sperm cryopreservation: the freezing and storing of sperm at a sperm bank, although there are other choices available.

Once cancer treatment ends, if you are not producing healthy sperm, you will be able retrieve the frozen sperm from the sperm bank. A fertility specialist can give you more information about this process.

Know your options
If you are a male with cancer, your doctor may or may not bring up cancer-related fertility issues with you. The future of your fertility may lie in your hands. Ask yourself: do you strongly desire to have biological children? Are you OK with adopting or conceiving with the help of a sperm donor?

Know your options and ask your doctor about fertility preservation possibilities that would work for you. For the most accurate assessment of your fertility potential after cancer treatments, consider seeing a fertility specialist (reproductive endocrinologist).

Find a fertility doctor now. 

Reviewed September 2011 by Dr. Jennifer Mersereau, Medical Director at the University of North Carolina (UNC) Division of Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility.