Adult male survivors are often uncertain about their ability to father a child

Men need accurate information about risk of infertility after childhood cancer treatment

Published: 7/2/2018

Infertility graphic

Becoming a parent is an important life goal for many people. Unfortunately, some treatments for childhood cancer can lead to infertility. Infertility means not being able to get pregnant/father a pregnancy despite trying for at least a year.  “Little research has been done to address male survivors’ understanding of their treatment-related risk of infertility,” says Dr. Jordan G. Marchak, of Emory University in Atlanta.  

Dr. Marchak led a study to help close this knowledge gap.  The study team looked at responses provided by 1233 adult male survivors to the LTFU Study’s Male Health Questionnaire in order to learn about their perceptions of risk of infertility after childhood cancer. They found that more than a third (35 percent) of the study participants had an inaccurate perception of their infertility risk.

The inaccurate perceptions went both ways:

  • More than a third of men who had received fertility-damaging treatments did not believe they were at increased risk of infertility.
  • Similarly, more than a third of men who did not receive fertility-damaging treatments thought that they were likely to be infertile.
  • Of note, 41 percent of men who had not fathered a child believed they were at increased risk of infertility, even though they had not received fertility-damaging treatments.

What does this mean for you?

Not having an accurate understanding of your infertility risk can lead to unwanted consequences. Men who are unaware they’re at risk of infertility may be less likely seek out fertility testing or get reproductive assistance in a timely manner, which could reduce their chances of fathering children in the future. On the other hand, mistakenly thinking you can’t have kids could result in an unplanned pregnancy.  Knowing your treatment history can help you make an informed choice about whether you want to request fertility testing. For men who want to pursue fertility testing, the definitive test is a semen analysis.

The study team recently reported their results in the journal Cancer. They noted that many adult survivors don’t recall discussing reproductive health risks with their health care providers or parents, and they emphasized that additional research is needed to identify the best ways of informing survivors about their reproductive health after childhood cancer.

Reference

Gilleland Marchak J, Seidel KD, Mertens AC, et al. Perceptions of risk of infertility among male survivors of childhood cancer: A report from the Childhood Cancer Survivor Study. Cancer. 2018 Jun 1;124(11):2447-2455.