Every year, more than 60,000 young adults between ages 20 and 39 are diagnosed with cancer in the United States. While young women are more likely to be diagnosed with cancer than young men, I wanted to discuss the issue of fertility among young men with cancer, as June is Men’s Health Month.
If you are a young man battling cancer, your main focus is surely on treating that cancer, and you might not realize that cancer treatment can interfere with your ability to have children.
Any type of cancer treatment—whether it’s chemotherapy, radiation therapy or surgery—can damage sperm or make them non-functional. It’s not just men with cancers of the reproductive organs who are affected. Treatment for any type of cancer can impact a man’s fertility.
So, what should you do if you plan to have children after cancer? The most important thing is to talk with your oncologist before starting any treatment. In many cases, sperm can become healthy and functional 18 months to two years after treatment.
Sometimes, though, damage from treatment may be irreversible, which is why it’s so important to talk about your fertility options before treatment. Preserving your fertility during cancer treatment is called oncofertility, and it’s easy and fast for men.
In general, any man can preserve his sperm. It should be noted, however, that abnormalities can develop in sperm as we age, so you should plan to preserve your sperm before age 55. The most common way to preserve sperm is to freeze it, after which it can be stored safely for a long time, even decades.
Fertility clinics provide these services, yet these clinics may or may not be associated with your oncologist or the cancer center where you’re being treated. Also know that not all fertility clinics are the same: They differ in the technology that they offer, as well as their expertise.
Many oncologists don’t bring up oncofertility with their patients. You may need to bring up the topic on your own and insist on getting the information you need.
Oncofertility options are available for women, as well. If your wife or girlfriend is undergoing cancer treatment, she can have her eggs frozen or you provide sperm to fertilize her egg in a laboratory. Those fertilized eggs, called embryos, also can be frozen for future use. Again, it is important to talk with your oncologist and get as much information as you can before undergoing treatment.