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How is Cancer Treatment a Risk to Fertility?

Posted on November 1, 2021

If you are facing a recent cancer diagnosis, you already have a very full plate. There is much to consider, and in the coming weeks and months, your daily life will change. There will be doctor appointments, testing, medication(s), and therapies on the docket, and the idea of adding just one more item may seem to push what is already an overwhelming situation beyond its limits. However, one area of your life that you may not expect to be impacted by cancer treatment is your fertility, and this means that if you have future family planning goals, you’ll want to take a moment to consider how to preserve it. Fortunately, modern technology offers men (and women) options.

How does cancer treatment pose a risk to fertility?

Chemotherapy and radiation are the most common forms of cancer treatment. Sometimes only one is prescribed, sometimes both, and sometimes surgery is a third form of treatment. In previous generations, fertility was not taken into consideration prior to starting treatment, the goal was simply to begin as quickly as possible to offer the patient the best possible outcome. Though, those who experienced successful treatment did face the potential difficulty of being unable to conceive (they just were not aware of this).

How cancer treatment can impact fertility

Chemotherapy and radiation work by attacking the body’s cancer cells and destroying them, eliminating cancer from the body with each round of treatment. While this can remove a person’s cancer, it can also have the unintended effect of damaging sperm in men and ovarian reserve in women. For men, for sperm to be healthy, it needs to have a good size, shape, and motility (ability to move). Cancer therapies can damage sperm quality, making conception difficult or not possible.

Cancer surgery can be used to physically remove tumorous tissue from the body. If the tissue is located in a part of the body associated with the patient’s reproductive system, then it is possible that fertility can be negatively impacted. For example, in male patients, if the cancerous tissue is within the pelvic region there could be a risk to fertility (colon, bladder, etc.)

How can I preserve my fertility prior to cancer treatment?

Male fertility preservation, also known as sperm freezing, is very straightforward. For women, egg freezing requires an additional layer of time and preparation, so cancer treatment may need a delay if advisable by your doctor. For men, any delay is typically very minimal because all that is required in order to freeze sperm is an adequate sample a sperm bank can cryopreserve for future use. Sperm Banks, like the Fertility Center of California, offer patients @Home Sperm Freeze Kits so they can send their sample for freezing from the privacy and comfort of their own home. Sperm can be carefully preserved for many years, and then thawed and used to grow your family when you are ready.

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