Dr Guy Makin, at the School of Medicine's Division of Human Development and Reproductive Health, suggests giving better quality information on sperm banking to patients as young as 13, as well as training medical professionals to discuss the issue with them.
Several types of chemotherapy can damage the sperm-producing portion of the testes, while radiation of the testicular area can also lead to infertility, For this reason, infertility is very common among male survivors of childhood cancer.
Patients as young as 13 are capable of producing semen samples with normal sperm counts and these can be frozen for future use.
A 2002 study found 77 percent of childless male cancer patients aged 14 to 40 said they would like to father children in the future, they note. But the same investigation found just half of these patients had been given the option of banking sperm, and less than a quarter had done so successfully.
To investigate what obstacles exist to sperm banking among these patients, Dr Makin and his team surveyed 55 males aged 13 to 21 at their cancer diagnosis who had undergone potentially infertility-producing treatment and had been offered the option of banking their sperm at the Teenage Cancer Trust Young Oncology Unit at the Christie Hospital in Manchester.
Of the forty-five who completed the questionnaire, 67 percent had banked their sperm successfully. Three of the 15 who did not bank their sperm were too sick to do so, while one patient had not reached puberty.
The remaining men who were unable to obtain a sperm sample were younger than the men who succeeded in doing so – 15.3 years compared to 17.8 years. They also showed higher levels of anxiety, more difficulty in discussing fertility, and tended to be less knowledgeable about sperm banking.
Dr Makin, who reported the findings in the journal, Archives of Disease in Childhood, said: "These young men are coping with a life threatening illness and their future fertility is often not a priority for them. Our study showed that most teenage and young adult cancer sufferers were able to store semen when this was offered to them. Sperm banking should be seen as a routine part of treatment for these patients."
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The Manchester School of Medicine is one of the largest in the country, with almost 2000 undergraduates, 700 postgraduates and 1300 staff. The University of Manchester's five teaching hospitals, together with affiliated hospitals and community practices across the North West, provide excellent facilities for clinical training and research.
The Division of Human Development & Reproductive Health is one of the largest within the School of Medicine, with around 200 employees. It is a successful centre of postgraduate teaching and research and achieved a 5* rating in the 2001 Research Assessment Exercise. Its research covers a broad range of interests in human development including genetics, pregnancy (implantation/fertilisation, placental biology) peri/neo-natology, childhood growth and development, paediatric oncology and immunology, reproductive medicine and women's health, and eye development and disease. This research occurs within the Maternal and Fetal Health Research Centre, which was established in 2001.
The Christie Hospital is the largest single site Cancer Centre in Europe and treats over 12,000 patients newly diagnosed with cancer each year.
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