Sperm Banking: Fertility Options for Men Undergoing Cancer Treatment
Defining Sperm Banking
When you are facing cancer treatment (surgery, chemotherapy
or radiation therapy
), you will find yourself with a lot of questions. If you are young or want to start a family, you may wonder how treatment will affect your ability to father children in the future. Certain cancer treatments may temporarily or permanently affect your
In a technique known as sperm banking, your sperm are frozen (called cryopreservation) and stored. Should you decide to become a father at some point in the future, you will have that opportunity, even if the cancer treatment has affected your fertility.
In order to bank your sperm, you will need to collect a sample of your semen. This usually takes place in a private collection room at a sperm bank. You may choose to collect the sample on your own or you may have your wife or partner come into the room with you.
Once your sample is collected, it will be tested to determine your sperm count (how many sperm cells it contains) and the sperm motility level (how active the sperm cells are). Your sperm is also tested for
sexually transmitted diseases
. These viruses can be transmitted in the semen. Then, it is placed in a special container and frozen at extremely low temperatures.
Effects of Cancer Treatment
is designed to damage and kill cells like cancer cells that are dividing rapidly. Unfortunately cancerous cells are not the only cells in your body that divide rapidly. Some cells in your testicles are also doing this to create sperm. So chemotherapy can also damage them. It is quite probable that with chemotherapy, you will experience some period of infertility.
High doses of chemotherapy, such as those given before a
or stem cell transplant may cause permanent sterility.
Radiation therapy, particularly whole-body irradiation or radiation aimed at or near your testicles, may also affect sperm production. Some cancer surgeries, such as those for
, require men to have parts of their reproductive system removed. These surgeries may damage the nerves important for normal ejaculation.
If you know you are going to have cancer treatment, you may want to think about banking your sperm in advance, just in case you want it in the future.
Making the Decision
The decision to bank your sperm is a highly personal one. If you are married or in a committed relationship, it is best if your partner is a part of your decision. If you are under the age of 18, you might want to discuss it with your parents.
Time, however, is of the essence, as you will want to begin your treatment as quickly as possible. If you think sperm banking is an option for you, discuss the matter with your doctor soon after your diagnosis.
Banking Before Treatment
Storing semen samples does not have to delay the start of medical treatment, but it may temporarily delay your sex life. This is because even though sperm are constantly being produced in the testes, it takes some time to replenish the sperm level after each ejaculation. Therefore, to allow for high semen volume, a sample is best after 48 hours of sexual abstinence. If possible, the same amount of time should pass before the collection of the second sample. If the scheduling of your treatment does not allow that much time, waiting 24 hours between collections is usually enough.
When your sperm sample is collected, it will be tested for quality, among other things. Sperm quality is measured in one of several ways:
- Sperm count (the number of sperm present in one milliliter of seminal fluid)
- Sperm motility (the level of activity of the sperm cells)
- Morphology (the percentage of sperm cells that have a normal shape)
Once you have finished your cancer treatment, your semen quality may not be what it was before your treatment. This is likely due to either the disease itself or the medicines and therapies required to treat your disease.
Banking Less Than Optimal Sperm
Even if you have a low sperm count or low motility, it may make sense to bank your sperm. Fertility treatments like
, sperm injection, or intrauterine insemination
may help your partner to achieve a successful pregnancy.
Storing Your Sperm
Sperm can be safely stored in the freezer for several years, although problems can arise during the freezing and thawing process. This means that sperm from a sexually mature teenage boy or a young man that is banked before his cancer treatment should be viable years later when he is ready to become a father.
Many children have been conceived with sperm that has been frozen. Currently, there is no evidence to suggest that pregnancies produced with frozen sperm increase the chance of birth defects.
When you have cancer, acting quickly is in your best interest. When talking about your treatment plan ask your doctor about any concerns you have about your future fertility.
American Cancer Society
National Cancer Institute
Canadian Cancer Society
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Male Infertility. American Urological Association Urology Care Foundation website. Available at: http://www.urologyhealth.org/urology/index.cfm?article=102. Updated January 2011. Accessed December 11, 2012.
Parenthood Options: Men. Fertile Hope website. Available at: http://www.fertilehope.org/learn-more/cancer-and-fertility-info/parenthood-options-men.cfm#TID1. Accessed December 11, 2012.
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