For Parents of Male Cancer Patients
Your adolescent son has just been diagnosed with cancer. To hear this word in the same sentence as your child's name is terrifying. Many parents are in a state of shock, angry, sad or some combination of all three. However, once the initial shock has worn off, the reality that most children with cancer will be cured of their disease should bring hope.
The list of potential side effects of the treatments your child's doctor has prescribed often sounds worse than the disease. Many of these side-effects are immediate and life altering, and may cause your child to feel unwell. Infertility - or the inability to father children later in life - occurs following treatment with certain chemotherapy drugs, radiation therapy directed at or near the testicles, high doses of radiation therapy to the brain, total body irradiation and testicular surgery. Most parents rate infertility as a low concern during the initial diagnosis and treatment phase. Immediate concerns about life and death and current problems are understandably much more important.
Infertility, however, is of very high concern to adults undergoing cancer therapy, and is also a source of great concern to young adult cancer survivors. Young men are no less saddened by infertility than their female counterparts. Indeed, young adult cancer survivors are often angry that they were not more informed about infertility at the time of their cancer treatment.
It may be difficult to imagine your young son as a father, especially during this time of cancer diagnosis. However, cryopreservation of sperm does provide the option of future children.
It is often not easy for adolescent males to discuss these issues with their parents. It may be extremely embarrassing, for both parent and child, even if you have a very close relationship. Younger teens may claim to not be interested, or state that they never want to be a father. We have learned, however, that nothing could be further from the truth as the young man matures.
It is important for teens to understand that decreased sperm production is not the same thing as impotence. Sexual functioning is not related to the production of sperm.
We strongly encourage you to discuss these issues with your son in a frank and honest manner. Many teens are far too embarrassed to talk with their parents about sexual issues. In that case, a close male relative who will be sensitive to your son's needs may be a good alternative. The pediatric oncology staff physicians and nurse practitioners are skilled with adolescents and are prepared to help you and your child at this difficult time.