After being diagnosed with cancer, patients and families often have only one thing on their minds: healing. With support and extraordinary strength, many cancer patients are able to make a full recovery. However, for many men who are diagnosed with testicular cancer (or other cancers directly connected to reproductive organs), future fertility is put at risk through treatment. Luckily, new studies are introducing options to cancer patients to preserve their potential reproductive futures.
Cancer Patients Banking Sperm for Future Fertility
A Vital Family-Building Tool for a Cancer Survivor
Branden Lischner was diagnosed with testicular cancer at 18 years old. His radiation treatments and surgeries were known to cause infertility, so his doctors pressured him to save a sperm sample prior to many of his treatments and procedures. He eventually stopped backing his sperm until his cancer returned in 2013 – when Lischner was married – and he decided to save more samples. These samples ended up being the reason Lischner and his wife were able to start a family four years later.
A healthy man produces between 200 and 500 million sperm per ejaculate, but Lischner only had thirteen to work with when trying to conceive. Only a fraction of the sperm in every ejaculate make it to the uterus, so Lischner and his wife’s chances of getting pregnant were only about one in 100,000. With very few families as lucky to conceive as the Lischners were, researchers have actively been working to create a treatment for men – and even prepubescent boys – who want to preserve sperm and sperm precursor cells to preserve fertility after beating cancer.
Stem-Cell Transplants to Preserve Fertility
Experimental Study Involves the Use of Spermatogonial Stem Cells at Any Point in Life
An experimental procedure at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s (UPMC) Magee’s Women’s Hospital was the hope that Lischner and thousands of men before and after him could be looking for to preserve future fertility. What’s so groundbreaking about the procedure is that it does not require a traditional sperm sampling from ejaculation, meaning even young patients’ parents can lead the decision in preserving future fertility.
The study, known as spermatogonial stem-cell transplantation, was pioneered at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. It was first performed successfully on mice and since has been reproduced on a variety of other animals, including nonhuman primates. The idea behind the study was based on natural sperm production in healthy men – a process that involves the turning of spermatogonial stem cells into functional sperm. Although prepubescent boys cannot create sperm, they already have the stem cells necessary to do so in the future. The scientists suggest that the collection of stem cells can be frozen and returned to the testes after cancer treatment in hope of allowing men the natural ability to produce sperm later in life after beating cancer.
Fertility specialists have recently began collecting and freezing human spermatogonial stem cells with Magee’s Fertility-Preservation Program’s method to use in future human trials. A great amount of research remains, including working to determine how much time can go by until these stem cells are rendered ineffective. What does this mean for young patients currently battling cancer? It means that taking small samples of stem cells could potentially be a solution to fertility issues they could face down the road from treatment.