Bryan Woodward is a Consultant Clinical Embryologist who specialises in andrology and embryology services to help people conceive and preserve their fertility.

Bryan is also Chair of the UK's professional body for male infertility, the Association of Biomedical Andrologists (ABA) and has recently set up a specialist fertility service in the East Midlands, specifically for sperm health. Here, he explains the importance of providing young male cancer patients with information about fertility preservation.

Time to Talk Male Fertility Preservation

For young men with cancer, after they have completed their cancer therapy they may realise that the chance of having children in later life has been affected by the treatment regime. Some cancers can irreversibly affect production of healthy sperm, and many cancer treatments can reduce fertility further.

At the time of the diagnosis, there is so much to suddenly think about, and parenthood is often not one of the main concerns, especially for younger patients. It has been suggested that only 20% of young males are currently offered fertility preservation, which is probably due to a lack of awareness of the sperm freeze option. We need to inform the public and cancer professionals about how cancer treatment may adversely affect fertility. Many young people with cancer simply aren’t made aware that there are specialist andrology clinics with sperm storage facilities available.

Discussion

Fertility specialists need to initiate discussions with oncology departments, so that everyone is aware of the sperm freeze options. We also need to ensure there is good communication with licensed sperm banks. Specialist fertility services have counsellors, staff and literature that can inform young men of the steps of fertility preservation which may offer future opportunities to have a family.

Spreading the message

There are professional bodies in the field of fertility who are helping to spread the message. TYAC is doing a great job in creating awareness and supporting young men and I gave a talk on fertility preservation at a workshop for the British Fertility Society last year about fertility preservation.

The Association of Biomedical Andrologists also hosted a day devoted to this topic at our annual 2016 conference. We invited a young man who had stored his sperm to speak about his experience. He has now recovered from his cancer and has since become a father by using the sperm he froze before his cancer treatment. His talk was very emotional and I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house afterwards! This just goes to show how fertility preservation can work to change people’s lives and how important it is to educate professionals to share guidance and information about the services that are available.

Options

When teenagers and young adults are diagnosed with cancer, focus naturally falls on getting that patient treated and cured as soon as possible. Fatherhood is often not even considered. But if sperm production is irreversibly damaged by the cancer therapy, their chance of having their own genetic children is greatly reduced.  Whilst it may not seem to be a priority, at least we should let teenagers, young adults and their families know about the sperm freeze option.

Byran Woodward can be contacted at: bryan@xyfertility.co.uk.