The Effects of Prostate Cancer on Male Fertility-and Vice-Versa

Does Infertility Cause Prostate Cancer?

Listen up, men! Those of you who have current infertility issues may end up with the more aggressive types of prostate cancer in the future. A recent study found that infertile men who later developed prostate cancer were as much as 200% more likely to develop a higher level prostate cancer, which in turn can both grow and spread more quickly than prostate cancer in fertile man.

Currently, prostate cancer is the most common type of male cancer in the United States. One study evaluated a large group of men (23,000) in California who were currently being evaluated or treated for infertility. The study lasted over thirty years, and the results backed up other similar studies, finding infertile men were around 2.6 times as likely to eventually be diagnosed with a more aggressive form of prostate cancer or testicular cancer.

Other studies along these same lines have found that as our cells divide and renew-which they do on a regular basis-men with infertility issues have much more difficulty repairing the normal DNA errors as those with average fertility levels. This inability to repair DNA makes men much more likely to develop health issues later in life, including cancer. The results beg the question as to whether infertility in a man is simply giving him the "heads up" that future health problems could be around the corner. Because the answer to that question is largely unknown, doctors are increasingly questioning whether or not sperm from severely infertile men should be used in IVF. Could there be a risk of passing on serious health problems to babies born from infertile men's sperm?

Does Prostate Cancer Render Men Infertile?

Any time cancer involving the genital or pelvic organs requires surgery or other forms of treatment, there can be negative consequences for future fertility. Men who are diagnosed with prostate cancer, and are still relatively young, can find themselves unable to have the family they had hoped for. A surgery performed on prostate cancer patients, known as a radical prostatectomy can lead to a sharp increase in erectile dysfunction-as high as 80%, although in younger patients it is more likely to be between 20-40%. Testicular cancer patients who undergo an orchiectomy will have similar results.

Of course the above statistics relate to a man's ability to have intercourse, not the viability of his sperm. Generally a man who has undergone a radical prostatectomy will be sterile since the semen cannot be ejaculated due to the removal of its former pathway. If you want to have children following such a surgery, ask your doctor about extracting sperm cells from the testes or ask prior to the surgery about cryo-preserving your sperm for future insemination.

Radiation, Chemotherapy and Hormone Treatments Effect on Fertility

Many men who undergo radiation therapy to treat their prostate cancer will find themselves rendered infertile, although this result is closely associated with the doses administered. In some cases, after approximately five years normal fertility rates could be reached, and if the patient undergoes a treatment known as brachytherapy where radioactive iodine seeds are implanted in the prostate he may retain his fertility altogether. Chemotherapy as a treatment for prostate cancer may cause temporary or permanent infertility, depending on the surrounding factors. A man's age, and overall health as well as the types of chemotherapy drugs given will determine fertility. Some men will take hormone shots to shrink their prostate cancer, but generally infertility will only last as long as the treatment is being administered. Once treatment is complete, most men will return to pre-treatment fertility levels.

Men who have been diagnosed with prostate cancer and want to have children in the future should fully understand the risks of infertility following treatment. So, plan ahead and stay informed.

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