Cancer is a devastating disease, affecting many families in our country. In fact, it can affect one’s ability to have a family, period. Men who go through cancer treatment may be at risk for fertility problems, which is a difficult and overwhelming thing to face if they intend on fathering a biological child. When you have to make a life-or-death decision in the form of choosing a cancer treatment, the outcomes are, much of the time, unknown when it comes to fertility.
Infertility is defined as not being able to get pregnant after one year of unprotected sex. It is a common problem in the United States, with men’s infertility being a cause in about 40% to 50% of cases. Fathering a biological child may be really important to some men, and infertility can make this difficult if not impossible. Add in the threat of a deadly disease, and you have yourself a confusing and scary scenario.
Not the only factor
Infertility after cancer treatment depends on various factors. Baseline fertility, meaning whether or not you already had fertility problems, is an obvious one. The type of cancer treatment, surgeries, dosage, duration and remission time are also factors. Personal health factors, such as comorbidities, can add additional risks for a decrease in fertility.
Different cancer treatments carry with them different risks associated with infertility. Chemotherapy, one of the most common treatments, can damage sperm cells in men and young boys. Hormonal therapies, on the other hand, reduce the sperm count overall, as can radiation. Surgery, depending on the type of cancer, can damage organs or nerves, leading to a host of fertility problems. Newer treatments such as stem cell transplants, immunotherapies, and targeted cancer therapy may all have different outcomes affecting fertility as well.
Talk it out
Because of these various risk factors, it is extremely important to speak with your partner or spouse about what you want for your family. If you’re the parents of a young child undergoing cancer treatment, it’s important to keep these factors in mind for his future.
The impact of cancer treatments on future fertility effects may be secondary to a physician while he/she is working to eliminate something that could cause mortal harm. Therefore, it is extremely important to advocate for yourself and bring some questions to your doctor or oncologist.
“Can this treatment lead to fertility problems?” is maybe the best and most direct question to ask. Besides this, you can also ask about reproductive specialists at the hospital, whether or not you should be using birth control while undergoing treatment, and if there are preservation methods available to you.
You have options!
Many men may seek preservation methods prior to undergoing cancer treatment. Sperm banking is one of the easiest and most common methods available. This is exactly what it sounds like: saving sperm for future use. For those who cannot produce a semen specimen, testicular sperm extraction is an option. Testicular shielding is another possibility for preserving fertility. This involves a procedure in which a protective shield is placed over the testicular area so as to protect it from scatter radiation during treatment.
Support groups are another option, and many hospitals offer these in person. Getting emotional support is essential for both men and women when undergoing treatment for cancer.