Cancer: Legacy is your chance to freeze out disease

Men produce genetic mutations at a rate of one every eight months, four times quicker than in women.  For this reason, older men have children with higher rates of genetic defects, even though you can technically have children into your 60s or 70s. The fact is, however, every man should be storing his assets at the youngest age possible, so that he has stored the healthiest, highest-quality version of himself to protect himself against these risks.

In fact, cancer is nothing but an extreme form of genetic mutation. And while the War on Cancer seems some ways from total victory, great strides have been made in treating its many forms and mutations – often, though, at a terrible price. Chemotherapy, for instance, while often successful, comes with serious side effects – including some that touch upon the area of male fertility.

Men hoping to one day conceive a child who are also about to undergo chemotherapy are understandably concerned to know the effects of treatments on their sperm. Who better to address these questions than those who might treat them?

According to the MD Anderson Cancer at the University of Texas, “Cancer treatment can cause temporary or permanent infertility in men.” Men start creating sperm cells at the point of puberty, and, barring any mishaps, disorders, or diseases, continue to produce sperm for as long as they live. Cancer treatments could render a man infertile if they were to wipe out every stem cell in the testicles that are needed to form new sperm cells.

This can result if both testicles are removed, if the testicle area receives large doses of radiation, or if extreme amounts of alkylating chemotherapy drugs are administered.

Men dealing with testicular cancer, most of whom are young says the Anderson Center, “are likely to be infertile before they are diagnosed with cancer.” However, roughly 50 percent experience a decent recovery to a point of “good fertility” – even if they’ve had a testicle removed or undergone chemotherapy.

Given the risks to male fertility, the Anderson Center recommends taking proactive steps to preserve fertility before chemotherapy or pelvic radiation treatments begin. Otherwise, sperm could be damaged. The specific recommendation given “simply involves collecting a sample of semen and freezing it.”

The American Cancer Society (ACS) echoes the Anderson Center’s recommendation, stressing that discussions about preserving fertility should begin well before the commencement of cancer treatments – talks that the patient may need to initiate, since doctors don’t always raise this topic themselves.

In that case, it’s perfectly fine to ask your health provider the following:

  • What, if anything, could be done before beginning my cancer treatment to improve the chances that I will be able to conceive a child?
  • I would like to look into sperm banking. Would this be possible for me? Could you direct me to where I might find more information?

Indeed, says the ACS, “Sperm banking is the most well-established method of fertility preservation for men.”

The ACS goes on to note that, while many men anticipating treatment will have semen samples indicating that their sperm counts or number of sperm with normal shape is low, these findings are quite common in men with cancer. And, the organization stresses, “It is important for patients to know that they can and should store the sperm even if they have reduced sperm quality or quantity.”

For those who may not desire or have the opportunity to bank sperm ahead of treatments, it is possible to preserve sperm after therapy has concluded.

A study published in the Journal of Andrology details several such scenarios. In one, an American doctor describes trying to help a young patient who was willing to forego chemotherapy treatment for a few hours so that a sample of his sperm could be collected and frozen. However, he wound up being too ill when it came time for the sample to be taken.

In response to his doctor’s query about alternative collection methods, Dr. Ole Schou of Denmark replied, “We have done that many times….You can normally find motile sperm in the ejaculate up to about 70 days after chemotherapy and radiation.”

Dr. Marvin Meistrich of the United States differed, saying that patients should let at least six months pass after the last round of chemotherapy before attempting to freeze sperm because of concerns over “increased sperm aneuploidy,” or cells with an abnormal chromosome count, which can lead to genetic disorders, including birth defects.

Cancer can unfortunately strike in any season of life. Proactive and protective measures are the best defenses for a man’s assets. Forward-looking Legacy men have already stored their assets. Have you?