Earlier this week I received a call from an old friend saying he was recently diagnosed with cancer. He starts chemotherapy next week. Fortunately, in the all the upset of being diagnosed with cancer, he thought of his future fertility and has stored sperm with us.
In today’s BBC on-line an article discusses the use of a male’s stem cells to create sperm after cancer treatment. Many cancer treatments damage sperm producing cells in the testicles leaving men with low or no sperm afterwards. Currently we try to encourage boys and men to freeze their sperm (if there is time) before they start their cancer treatment but many do not. In the BBC referenced study stem cells were taken out of male monkeys. The monkeys then had chemotherapy which destroyed all of their sperm. Then the stems cells were put back (into the bone marrow, where they came from) and the monkey’s started to produce sperm again. This work has been done in female mice in the past so we know it’s possible. This work is exciting because it’s in primates – whichusually means the results can be achieved in humans too.
So, the future for boys and men with cancer may involve them storing stem cells prior to treatment. It’s more invasive than just ejaculating and freezing sperm but it does hold the promise of a spontaneous conception after cancer treatment, and it offers an option for those who can’t store sperm before treatment.
Genesis Fertility Centre
Reproductive Endocrinology & Infertility