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Sperm banking gives cancer patients emotional lift

August 25, 2005

By Amy Norton

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Sperm banking may not only
preserve young cancer patients’ ability to have children, but
their emotional well-being as well, according to Japanese
researchers.

They found that among 51 young men who banked their sperm
before undergoing chemotherapy, 80 percent said that the move
helped them in the “emotional battle against cancer.” Even
those who were unsure whether they wanted to have children in
the future gained some peace of mind from sperm banking,
according to the researchers.

Infertility is a potential risk of chemotherapy, and a
particularly troubling one for younger cancer patients. One
option for men is cryopreservation — freezing and storing
sperm — before chemotherapy so that they and their partners
can later conceive through assisted reproduction.

Since doctors can’t predict which men will recover their
normal sperm production after cancer treatment, it makes sense
for all young patients to bank sperm before beginning therapy,
Dr. Kazuo Saito, the lead author of the new study, told Reuters
Health.

However, research suggests that only 10 percent to 20
percent of young men do so, according to Saito, who is with
Yokohama City University Medical Center.

To see how sperm banking affects men’s emotional well-being
as they deal with a cancer diagnosis, the researchers gave
questionnaires to a group of patients whose sperm had been
banked at their center before chemotherapy.

Most of the men were treated for testicular cancer, while
the rest had leukemia, lymphoma or other cancers.

The large majority said that sperm banking gave them an
emotional lift during their cancer fight, according to findings
published in the journal Cancer. And 80 percent said they would
recommend sperm banking to other men with the same disease.

About half of the patients banked their sperm on a doctor’s
recommendation, while the rest made the decision on their own,
Saito’s team found.

“We believe that many cancer physicians don’t understand
the significance of sperm cryopreservation,” Saito said, noting
that before 1990, the technology did not allow doctors to
successfully use frozen sperm to achieve a pregnancy.

All cancer specialists, Saito said, should inform patients
about the potential reproductive side effects of treatment and
about the option of sperm banking.

However, the researchers stress, sperm banking is not a
total answer to the problem of treatment-related infertility.
One obstacle for some patients is the cost of freezing and
storing sperm.

Moreover, Saito’s team found, many men in their study still
worried about becoming infertile, despite having banked their
sperm. All of the patients said they hoped their fertility
would be restored at some point after treatment.

This, the researchers say, points to the importance of
developing new chemotherapy methods that are less of a threat
to patients’ fertility. “We should not be satisfied with simply
banking their sperm,” they conclude.

SOURCE: Cancer, August 1, 2005.




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