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Male cancer survivors missing fertility advice

Third of men who banked sperm do not return for fertility advice

Adrian O'Dowd

Friday, 04 January 2013

Around a third of men who have banked sperm before cancer treatment fail to return for follow-up appointments to assess their fertility, finds a new study presented this week.

There is therefore a need to come up with strategies to encourage male cancer survivors to consider future fertility, said the authors presenting their findings at this week’s Fertility 2013 being held in Liverpool.

Sperm banking is recommended for all men diagnosed with cancer who are at risk of long-term infertility, caused by treatment such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

Infertility can be permanent or temporary depending on the individual's circumstances and men may need to attend follow-up appointments to assess their fertility in the years after they have been discharged from cancer treatment.

These appointments are important to receive appropriate fertility advice and in light of current sperm banking regulations, which say sperm samples should be disposed of after 10 years if ongoing infertility cannot be confirmed.

The Cancer Research UK funded study carried out by the University of Sheffield set out to assess whether or not men in such circumstances were accessing appropriate fertility advice.

Dr Allan Pacey, senior lecturer in andrology, and Professor Christine Eiser, professor in psychology, at the University of Sheffield sent questionnaires to 499 male cancer survivors aged between 18 and 55 who had undergone cancer treatment more than five years ago and had taken the opportunity to bank sperm in either Sheffield or Nottingham.

The research showed that of the 193 responses, over a third of men (36%) had never attended a follow-up appointment to assess their fertility and a further third (33%) only attended on one occasion.

The authors said missing follow-up appointments to monitor fertility meant cancer survivors did not receive education and options available to them.

In many cases, men could be unaware their sperm could be disposed of if ongoing infertility was not confirmed, thereby having an impact on their future life choices and ability to father children.

The study argues new education strategies are urgently needed on an ongoing basis from the time of diagnosis to inform men about the importance of fertility monitoring as well as encouraging more men to attend these follow-up appointments.

Dr Pacey said: “Trying to engage men with this subject is notoriously difficult. For those of us who run sperm banks, many men store their sperm and then do not contact us again, even though there are legal reasons to keep in contact.

“Our research suggests that there is a need to educate men about the benefits of attending follow-up fertility clinics and the long-term consequences of non-attendance.”

Professor Eiser added: “Having received a cancer diagnosis, patients immediately need to take in a lot of information regarding treatments and side-effects and it can be challenging to discuss potential longer-term effects on fertility at this time.”

Julia Frater, senior information nurse at Cancer Research UK, said: “This research highlights the need to talk to men about the value of ongoing fertility monitoring during the years following cancer treatment, and not just when they are diagnosed.”

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