Infertility is a common problem faced by cancer patients after the therapy. There are different causes of infertility in men. The most common factors that can lead to infertility are:
- Poor quality of sperm
- Poor quantity of sperm
The quality and quantity of sperm mainly depend on the lifestyle and treatments that an individual has to go through.
How does cancer therapy affect fertility in men?
One of the common cancer therapies is chemotherapy. Chemotherapy generally works by killing the rapidly dividing cells. Chemotherapy has the ability to destroy a large number of cancer cells that are reproducing abnormally. There are many other cells in your body that divide rapidly which can get inhibited with chemotherapy.
The cells present in the lining of gastrointestinal tracts, germ cells and hair follicles usually divide rapidly. These rapidly dividing cells can also become the target of chemotherapy during cancer treatment. When these cells are destroyed the side effects becomes visible in the form of hair loss, diarrhea, mouth sores and infertility.
Sperms are constantly produced in the body which can also make them the primary target of chemotherapy. Sperm production is the main requirement for male fertility. Sperm matures in the seminiferous tubules, located in the testes.
Sperm cells can easily be damaged by radiation, even when exposed to low doses. In rare cases this radiation damage is reversible. It is difficult to predict who will be suffering from permanent sterility after the cancer therapy.
Leydig cells are also an important type of cell that is present within the testes. Leydig cells are responsible for testosterone production which is required for fertility. Testosterone is essential to achieve puberty. In absence of testosterone, you will experience loss of secondary sex characteristics.
Leydig cells also get damaged when exposed to radiation. A high dose of radiation is required to damage the Leydig cells, unlike the sperm cells. Chemotherapy will not cause any harm to Leydig cells.
Hormones like luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) are responsible for stimulating the production of sperm and testosterone within the testes. When radiation therapy is used for brain, it can damage the pituitary gland which is responsible for the production of LH and FSH. Damage to pituitary gland can eventually affect the sperm and testosterone production.
Effect of Cancer on Sperm
Certain types of cancer can cause men to produce a poor quality of sperms, even prior to the cancer therapy. Diseases such as Hodgkin’s disease and testicular cancer will generally lead to low sperm count. In such cases, the assisted reproductive technique is considered.