Fertility boost for testicular cancer patients

The vast majority of men who try to have a family, following treatment for testicular cancer, are able to father children - according to a report published today in the British Journal of Cancer.

Scientists at The Institute of Cancer Research and The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust studied almost 700 patients who had been treated for testicular cancer between 1982 and 1992 and asked them to complete a questionnaire relating to fertility and general health.

Just over 200 men reported attempting conception and 159 of these (77 per cent) succeeded in becoming fathers. A further 10 patients fathered children after fertility treatment.

The study also found that patients treated with chemotherapy after surgery had an increased risk of infertility compared to those who had no follow-up treatment or had radiotherapy only. But it was less than had been expected.

Among the men attempting conception without fertility treatment, those who had had surgery but no further treatment had the highest rate of success (85 per cent); those who had radiotherapy achieved an 82 per cent success rate; those who had chemotherapy achieved a 71 per cent success rate and those who were given both chemotherapy and radiotherapy had a 67 per cent success rate.

Lead scientist Dr Robert Huddart of The Institute of Cancer Research and The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, says: “Our previous studies suggested that most men’s sperm counts recover after chemotherapy. In this study we have shown that after treatment with chemotherapy or radiotherapy the majority of men who want to father children can do so.”

“In patients who had no treatment after surgery we found that 15 per cent had difficulty conceiving; treatment made this percentage slightly higher but not dramatically so. More than 70 per cent of patients who had chemotherapy were still fertile.

“It is important that patients should be monitored for testosterone as low levels of this hormone affect quality of life and men with less testosterone tend to be less sexually active.”

Patients were also invited to answer questions about sexual function and satisfaction. Most men answered this and of those more than 83 per cent said they had a satisfying sexual relationship with their partner.

Professor Peter Rigby, Chief Executive of The Institute of Cancer Research, says: “This is very encouraging news, testicular cancer is the most common cancer in young men, many of whom are likely to hope to go on and have children following treatment. The study also highlights the great progress in cancer treatment, not only is testicular cancer 99% curable if it is caught early enough, but the vast majority of men can go on to lead normal lives following treatment.”

Professor John Toy, Medical Director of Cancer Research UK - which owns the British Journal of Cancer and partly funded the study - said: “This study is particularly heartening for young men diagnosed with testicular cancer and for their partners. It goes a long way towards allaying the natural fears that treatment will leave them unable to have children.”

Around 2,000 cases of testicular cancer are registered in the UK each year. More than 95 per cent of cases are curable. Around half of all cases are in men aged under 35. The disease rarely occurs before puberty but it is the most common cancer in men aged 15-44 years.

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