As treatments for childhood cancers have improved, more and more survivors are entering their reproductive years, and are thinking about starting families of their own. The possibility of losing the ability to have children due to cancer treatment is very concerning to many families. Fertility is an extremely important quality of life concern for childhood cancer survivors
Some cancer treatments may affect girl’s ovaries or a boy’s testes. This may last for a short time after completing cancer treatment. Or it may last a lifetime and cause infertility. Infertility is the inability to have biological children. Infertility from cancer treatment is called a late effect. Your child’s risk of late effects depends on the cancer type and treatment plan. Ask your child’s doctor if planned treatments might have short- or long-term effects on reproductive health.
Because infertility occurs secondary to cancer treatment, and even small doses of chemotherapy can cause temporary azoospermia or damage to sperm DNA, banking should ideally be offered during the initial staging and diagnosis of disease before treatments are initiated.
Cryopreservation of semen, or sperm banking, is an easy, widely available means to preserve fertility for adolescent and young adult males with cancer, but it is not an option that is often available to young male cancer patients. It is recommended to all boys over 12 who will undergo chemotherapy, radiation or surgery, which could harm their ability to become fathers someday.
Testicular tissue freezing is an option for boys who have not gone through puberty; freezing testicle tissue may help preserve fertility. This is still an experimental approach.
In this video, former CHOP cancer patients discuss why they made the decision to bank their sperm, and describe what the experience was like for them:
Ideally, this should occur before the start of therapy, when a window of opportunity may exist to preserve the patient’s future reproductive potential.
Ask your doctor!