Male fertility can be impacted by many factors. Smoking, body weight, infections and even air pollution have all been linked to sperm production. But men who have had cancer in childhood or adulthood may feel especially aware of, or worried about, their fertility. Recent research has explored what fertility and fatherhood can look like for men following cancer diagnosis and treatment.
Cancer and Fertility
Boys and men who have cancer may later have lower fertility levels. Sperm production is reduced either because of the effects of the cancer itself, or because of chemotherapy, radiotherapy, or any surgery used to treat the cancer.
Due to the marked improvement in cancer survival rates over time, far more is now understood about the connection between cancer and male fertility. This means that you may have received advice or treatment to help protect your fertility at the time of your cancer treatment. Fertility preservation can include storing your sperm in a sperm bank or shielding the testicles during radiotherapy.
Starting a Family
With your cancer treatment behind you, you may now be at a stage in life where you would like to become a parent. Knowing that your fertility is likely to be lower than average can sadly make this a time of worry. However, each road to parenthood is unique and no two men are the same. Your overall fertility is likely to be affected by:
- The type of cancer you had
- The treatment you received, including the dose and duration
- Your overall health
- Your age at cancer diagnosis, and your age now
- Your natural fertility level
A Danish study published in 2021 found that although fatherhood rates are lower among men who have survived cancer, overall, the number of men becoming fathers after a cancer diagnosis is markedly increasing. This is because more men are surviving cancer, and a greater number are having their fertility preserved prior to treatment. Subsequently, this enables men to start a family with the help of assisted reproductive techniques such as IVF.
A study published in February 2023 demonstrated that being able to access fertility care was beneficial to men who have survived cancer. The Swedish research team reported that men who have had cancer are more likely to need medical assistance to become fathers, when compared to men who have never had cancer.
In many cases, intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) may be required, and so it is important that men know where to seek medical support to start a family. Depending on your individual circumstances, you may need to get advice from your oncologist, or consult a fertility specialist or urologist.
Male infertility can be more likely in men who have been treated for cancer. However, as cancer survival rates increase, so too does the chance of becoming a father with the help of fertility treatment. Knowing that you may need to preserve your fertility at the time of treatment, and accessing fertility care promptly when you are ready to begin trying to conceive, may increase your chance of becoming a father.