April 4, 2006

Men Not Banking Sperm before Cancer Therapy

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Even though success rates in achieving pregnancy with frozen sperm are high, not many men take advantage of sperm preservation before they undergo cancer treatment that can make them sterile, Spanish investigators report.

"Amazingly, the number of males banking sperm under these circumstances is extremely low in comparison with the number of newly diagnosed tumors in men younger than 40-45 years of age," Dr. Marcos Meseguer and his team note in an article in the medical journal Fertility and Sterility.

The researchers' report on success rates with frozen sperm might encourage more young male cancer patients to go through the process.

Meseguer, from Instituto Valenciano de Infertilidad, and his team reviewed the outcomes for 186 men who had their sperm frozen against future need before undergoing cancer treatment.

Six months after treatment, analysis of 41 new semen samples showed that 30 percent had recovered normal sperm production but the other 70 percent had low or absent sperm counts.

Some patients destroyed their samples once normal sperm production was restored after cancer treatment. However, the researchers caution, "we can not be sure whether the sperm production is not genetically or structurally affected, and consequently until pregnancy is reached, samples should be kept frozen."

Approximately 15 percent of the men needed the sperm samples several years later.

The researchers compared the outcomes of in vitro fertilization or other assisted reproductive procedures using the preserved sperm with that of couples being treated because of female infertility.

Even though sperm from the men with cancer was frozen for much longer periods of time -- on average, 1022 days versus 46 days -- the sperm characteristics were similar between the two groups.

From 35 cycles using sperm from men who were treated for cancer, 16 pregnancies were achieved. The investigators report that the success rate was not significantly different from the comparison group.

"Sperm freezing before treatment is the best option in patients with cancer to preserve fertility," the team concludes, "and we must encourage oncology specialists to recommend it."

SOURCE: Fertility and Sterility, March 2006.