Testicular Cancer And Infertility
The prospect of possibly becoming infertile is a major concern for many men who find out that they have testicular cancer. Not only is the cancer itself likely to reduce a man's healthy sperm count, the treatment, depending on the severity of the condition, may be just as damaging to his fertility. Most men diagnosed with testicular cancer in the United States are aged between 15 and 35 - therefore the disease tends to strike before or during the period of a man's life in which he builds a family. But, being diagnosed with testicular cancer does not mean that a man has to say goodbye to his dreams of fatherhood. Thanks to advanced medicine, there are methods of preserving a testicular cancer patient's fertility, albeit outside his body.
Cryopreservation is a sperm preservation method that enables men to have their sperm ‘"deep frozen" and kept, even for several years, until they are ready to use it. A man's partner could become pregnant through IUI or IVF techniques, using his sperm, even years after he has become infertile. All men diagnosed with testicular cancer should talk to their doctors as soon as possible about the option of freezing sperm. It may not be necessary in every case, but it's important to be aware of all the options. Sometimes, in the rush to have cancer treated as soon as possible after diagnosis, a man tends to think of getting better first and becoming a father second, in which case, it could be too late.
Treatment Vs Infertility
Not all treatment for testicular cancer causes infertility. In fact, the majority of men who are treated for testicular cancer, and who wish to become fathers afterwards, do so. Whether or not the treatment a patient receives is likely to damage his sperm count depends on the severity of his cancer (namely, how far it has spread) and the type of treatment used. This means that fear of the possibility of future infertility is absolutely no excuse for not reporting testicular cancer symptoms to a doctor. A man is much more likely to experience fertility problems later if he allows testicular cancer to spread unchecked - in fact, he's likely not to be around to see any future kids grow up.
Symptoms of testicular cancer include:
A lump or growth in the testicle
A pocket of fluid collecting in the testicle
A "heavy" sensation in the scrotum
Pain in the scrotum, abdomen or groin
Pain or swelling in the breast area
One testicle - most of the time, testicular cancer only affects one testicle. If this testicle then has to be removed, then, providing that the other testicle is healthy, a man will not become infertile. It's worth talking to a doctor before the surgery about the health of the testicle not to be removed.
Two testicles - if both testicles are removed, unfortunately, a man's ability to produce sperm will be permanently damaged and he will become infertile. He will also need to take testosterone supplements for the rest of his life to maintain a healthy balance of hormones in his body. The removal of both testicles is avoided in all but the most serious of cases, and would be considered only if a man's life were in serious danger. Other treatment methods, such as radiation therapy and chemotherapy, would be tried first.
Lymph nodes - sometimes it's necessary to remove lymph nodes affected by cancer from the testicle, rather than remove the whole testicle. In the past, this surgery sometimes damaged important nerve endings which caused the patient to suffer from retrograde ejaculation (where semen is not released from the penis during ejaculation, but into the bladder instead), causing infertility. Thanks to modern surgery techniques, this rarely happens any more, but a patient should discuss this with his surgeon if he has any concerns.
Ability To Have An Erection
In all but the most severe and advanced cases of testicular cancer, surgery to have the cancerous tissue removed will not affect a man's ability to have an erection and reach orgasm. In fact, preserving the patient's ability to have sex is a major aim of the surgery, alongside saving his life.
Radiation therapy generally reduces or stops sperm production. For some patients, this reduced fertility will last for a couple of years or more, before improving or even returning to normal levels. Other patients will never be able to produce healthy sperm again.
Some chemotherapy drugs damage sperm production while others do not. As with radiation therapy, some patients will find that the reduction in fertility is only temporary, while others will become permanently infertile.
A man undergoing treatment that he knows may make him infertile may need support to maintain his mental and emotional strength. Fertility and virility are important elements of a man's identity and social standing. It may help to speak to a counselor or to other men who have been through the same experience.