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Sperm Freezing For Cancer Patients

Almost 50% of cancer survivors desire children after the treatment. Out of these, 75% are usually childless at the time of diagnosis. These statistics have pushed experts to design a permanent strategy for cancer patients.

This article will discuss a solution for male infertility in cancer patients: sperm freezing.

  1. Why Is Sperm Freezing For Cancer Patients Important?
  2. How Does Cancer Affect Male Fertility?
  3. How Long Do Chemotherapy Or Other Treatments Affect Sperm?
  4. Sperm Banking For Cancer Patients
  5. When Should I Undergo Sperm Preservation Process?
  6. How Is Sperm Freezing For Cancer Patients Performed?
  7. Does Sperm Freezing In Cancer Patients Affect Sperm Quality?

Why Is Sperm Freezing For Cancer Patients Important?

There are two reasons:

  • Cancer and its treatment options have detrimental impacts on sperm health. They can be temporary or permanent, leading to difficulties in achieving pregnancy. They are also more prominent after the treatment starts. So, it is logical to perform the sperm banking process before this happens.
  • The rebound time for temporary male infertility can be up to 9 years. Although newer drugs may reduce it to 9 to 24 months, the stakes are higher.

How Does Cancer Affect Male Fertility?

You can classify it into two portions.

Impacts of malignant disease on male fertility

Malignancy is the excessive proliferation of cells in your body. As a result, your body loses control over the organ with cancer.

Tumor formation impacts male fertility due to the following changes:

  • Tumor growth brings hormonal defects with it. The hormonal disruption interferes with the secretion of testosterone and other androgens in your body. This alteration leads to a decline in spermatogenesis and structural defects in sperm.
  • Cancer happens due to mutation in your genetic makeup. It disrupts DNA in your body, and this effect can extend to sperm as well. Male sperm cells have chromatin or genetic material in their heads. The malignant disease damages this DNA and leads to unsuccessful fertilization or loss of pregnancy.
  • Your body responds to the tumor by activating your immune system. It secretes antibodies in semen that attack sperm cells.
  • Cancer cells increase energy consumption. You must have heard that weight loss is the most prominent sign of tumor growth. It is because extra cells eat up nutrients in your body. Since vitamins and minerals are crucial for sperm formation, malignancy leads to male infertility.
  • Testicular cancer breaks down the manufacturing unit of spermatogenesis. It not only damages local testicular surroundings but also reduces testosterone secretion. Both these changes collectively lead to infertility.

Impact of cancer treatment on male fertility

Various types of treatment are available for cancer these days. The primary ones are:

  • Surgery
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation

All three of them negatively impact fertility.

Surgery

Surgery, in the case of testicular cancer, results in a 50% decline in sperm concentration. The ability of testes to perform adequate spermatogenesis also decreases.

Radiation

Radiation for any cancer causes fragmentation of DNA, which may continue up to 2 years after the treatment. It also destroys sperm cells and leads to azoospermia.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy reduces sperm count and results in prolonged defects in the structure. It also interferes with sperm motility.

How Long Do Chemotherapy Or Other Treatments Affect Sperm?

The severity is variable and depends on the dose, duration, and potency of treatment. For instance, radiation at smaller doses may only cause temporary azoospermia. But at higher doses, it can lead to irreversible fertility loss.

Similarly, the regain time is also flexible. At low doses of chemotherapy and radiation, spermatogenesis rebounds within a year. However, for some chemotherapy drugs and potent doses of radiation, it takes up to eight years.

Sperm Banking For Cancer Patients

Sperm freezing is a convenient method to ensure the possibility of paternity. For cancer patients, it is slightly different from normal individuals.

Take your time educating about it before making a decision.

When Should I Undergo Sperm Preservation Process?

Once the chemotherapy starts, the sperm quality declines rapidly. These sperm cells cannot be trusted to produce healthy offspring in the future. So, the appropriate time for sperm freezing is before the treatment begins.

Even before therapy, cancer takes its toll on spermatogenesis. To ensure the storage of capable and robust sperm, you need to undergo sperm analysis testing. This test gives an idea about sperm quality, motility, and total count.

How Is Sperm Freezing For Cancer Patients Performed?

Traditionally, samples are obtained by masturbation, but it is slightly challenging for cancer patients. Many cancers occur in childhood or the early teenage years.

For those in their teen years, ejaculation does not start until around 14 years of age. Secondly, older patients are often too ill because of cancer and cannot accomplish sample retrieval.

So, for cancer patients, the following techniques are available:

  • Elecetroejaculation refers to the electrical stimulation of the penis to achieve orgasm and collect a semen sample.
  • Aspiration procedures which collect a sample through invasive methods. These involve inserting a needle into testes and directly drawing semen from them.

Does Sperm Freezing In Cancer Patients Affect Sperm Quality?

The problems may arise in collecting adequate healthy sperm or gaining a sample. However, once sperm go into the bank, the process is no different from the standard method. The freezing or thawing does not interfere with sperm quality for cancer patients.

In any case, a semen analysis testis imperative before sperm freezing. Those individuals who can perform ejaculation can opt for an in-home semen analysis kit. It allows you to test your sperm quality before freezing without going through clinic visits.

  1. Dohle GR. Male infertility in cancer patients: Review of the literature. Int J Urol. 2010 Apr;17(4):327-31.
  2. Vakalopoulos I, Dimou P, Anagnostou I, Zeginiadou T. Impact of cancer and cancer treatment on male fertility. Hormones (Athens). 2015 Oct-Dec;14(4):579-89.
  3. Williams, Daniel H. “Sperm banking and the cancer patient.” Therapeutic advances in urology vol. 2,1 (2010): 19-34.

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Some sperm is lost and damaged during the transport, storage, freezing, and thawing process. The semen analysis reflects values at the time of the analysis, after transport and before freezing. These values will decrease throughout the freezing and thawing process. A semen analysis alone cannot be used to predict fertility.
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