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For Partners of Male Cancer Patients

Your partner has just been diagnosed with cancer. To hear this word in the same sentence as his name is terrifying. Many people 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 cancer therapy will begin and offers the chance of long term survival brings hope.

The list of potential side effects of the treatments the doctor has prescribed can often sound worse than the disease. Many of these side-effects are immediate and life altering, and may cause your partner to feel unwell. These immediate side-effects may cause fear and anxiety. Long term side effects are often not recognized or discussed at the time of diagnosis. 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. Infertility can be a devastating side-effect of cancer treatment.

Infertility is of very high concern to adults undergoing cancer therapy, and is also a source of great concern to their partners. Men are no less saddened by infertility than their female counterparts. It can be emotionally difficult to discuss the possibility of infertility. Nevertheless, couples facing cancer therapy should be aware of the potential effects of treatment, and formulate a plan to deal with it. Cancer survivors are often angry that they were not more informed about infertility and semen cryopreservation at the time of their cancer treatment. Cryopreservation of sperm does provide the chance to biologically father a child.

It is important to understand that decreased sperm production is not the same thing as impotence. Sexual functioning is not related to the production of sperm. (See handout on normal testicular function.)

Pregnancy using cryopreserved sperm always requires medical assistance. The simplest method is Intra Uterine Insemination (IUI). During IUI, the doctor places the thawed, washed semen sample inside the woman's uterus, near the time she is ovulating. More technical methods, such as In-Vitro Fertilization (IVF) or Intra-Cytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI) may be recommended if total sperm count is low.

Please see the Sperm Banking Procedure web page for more information.

We invite you to participate with your partner during the initial counseling session prior to semen collection. At that time, questions about the procedure, costs, and future use of the cryopreserved sperm will be discussed.


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