Many people facing cancer know about some of the side effects of common treatment options. Chemotherapy can cause you to lose your hair and change the way food tastes to you. It can make you nauseous and fatigued. These are symptoms that cancer patients expect to face during treatment. But one side effect you may not have thought about is infertility. For both men and women, treatments can affect the ability to conceive children1. If you are planning on starting or expanding your family, this may be a concern you should talk about with your doctor. A medical professional can help you understand your risk for infertility due to cancer and treatments.
Sperm production can be temporarily reduced by certain cancers and treatments2. Some treatments, however, permanently alter your ability to reproduce. Cancer cells are fast-growing. Cancer treatments are designed to target and eliminate fast-growing cells in the body. This is intended to eradicate cancer cells, but other fast-growing cells, like hair and sperm, are destroyed in the process3. Both radiation and chemotherapy treatments can slow or stop sperm production, and the effects can be permanent3. Additionally, chemotherapy and radiation therapy may alter the DNA of sperm, and it is recommended that a cancer survivor waits for 1 to 2 years before trying to conceive a child for this effect to dissipate4.
If you have been diagnosed with cancer and are worried that treatment may interfere with your plans to have a family, there are options you can pursue to preserve your fertility before you begin treatment. Cryogenic sperm freezing is a simple process that can save your viable genetic material for years, in case you need it to aid in intrauterine insemination or in vitro fertilization. Sperm must be collected and banked before your cancer treatment begins4 to ensure the best possible sample of undamaged cells. These frozen samples of genetic material preserve your ability to grow your family, whether due to permanent side effects of infertility, or whether you just don’t want to wait a few years after treatment to have a baby.
- American Society of Clinical Oncology. Side effects of chemotherapy. Retrieved from http://www.cancer.net/all-about-cancer/cancernet-feature-articles/treatments-tests-and-procedures/side-effects-chemotherapy
- Livestrong Foundation. Male fertility preservation. Retrieved from http://www.livestrong.org/we-can-help/just-diagnosed/male-fertility-preservation/
- Roswell Park Cancer Institute. Cancer and male infertility. Retrieved from https://www.roswellpark.org/patients/fertility-guide/male-infertility
- New York Cryo. FAQs: 3. When does one bank sperm? Retrieved from https://nycryo.com/faqs/