Together is a new resource for anyone affected by pediatric cancer - patients and their parents, family members, and friends.Learn More
Certain childhood cancer treatments can affect a male patient’s ability to father children in the future.
After receiving a diagnosis of cancer, having children is likely not the top matter on the mind of patients or parents. But families should discuss the impact of treatment with the patient’s oncologist before therapy starts.
Fertility refers to a person’s ability to reproduce: a man’s ability to father a child and a woman’s ability to get pregnant.
In men, testes produce sperm and the male hormone testosterone.
When sperm fertilizes an egg, a pregnancy occurs.
The pituitary gland releases hormones that stimulate testosterone production. Testosterone regulates many processes that assist in the transition of a boy into manhood. These processes include the maturation of sperm and the development of male sex organs.
Treatment that affects a patient’s pelvic area, reproductive organs, and pituitary gland function may affect a patient’s fertility.
Drugs known as alkylating agents and certain other anti-cancer medications can cause problems with fertility.
Before treatment begins, parents and the patient, if old enough, should talk with the medical team about the effect cancer treatment could have on the patient’s ability to have children.
Testicular tissue freezing
In testicular freezing, surgeons remove small pieces of testicular tissue and freeze it to use later. The tissue contains cells that could start sperm production in the future. Doctors can implant the thawed tissue when the man is ready to father children. This procedure is still considered experimental, but many studies are underway. Also, this tissue could contain cancer cells, so there is a risk that any cancer cells could spread when the tissue is implanted.
Sperm banking is an option after puberty. For this procedure, males give samples of semen. The laboratory staff checks the sample in the laboratory. The sperm are frozen and stored (banked) for the future. Sperm can be frozen for an indefinite amount of time.
Sperm extraction is an option for males who cannot give a semen sample. It involves a needle biopsy to gather sperm from the testicular tissue. Sperm cells are frozen for future use.
When patients have radiation treatment or imaging tests that involve radiation, the medical team can place a protective cover over the outside of the body to protect the testicles from damage. This shield protects the testicles from scatter radiation when other parts of the body receive radiation.
When your son is so young, it may seem strange to discuss fertility options. But many health care providers believe that having the discussion before treatment begins is the best time.
Consider asking questions such as:
Together does not endorse any branded product mentioned in this article.
Reviewed: June 2018