As a testicular cancer survivor, I am frequently asked about my future fertility, often by strangers who have no real vested interest in my potential fatherhood. Mainly, they are just curious as to how it has been impacted by the double whammy of having one of my testicles removed from my orchiectomy and my subsequent chemotherapy to eradicate remaining cells. Nothing like having random people inquire about my ability to perform!
In regards to the testicle removal, there really isn’t an impact by being down one ‘man.’ Each testicle produces enough sperm independently for a man to be considered fertile. Those of you with two testicles are just working twice as hard as me—but for the same end result.
But the culprit for any negative impact on my future fertility would be the 21 treatments of high-dose chemotherapy over a span of ten weeks in the winter of 2016-2017. Though I finished treatment over two years ago, I honestly do not know where my fertility stands. I’ve never had it tested nor tried to have children since then. In some cases of men who underwent the same course of treatment, their fertility rebounds after about six months, but in others it never returns.
However, a newly published study from the Annals of Oncology tracked 182 men who either just had an orchiectomy or one course (a total of seven treatments) of chemotherapy/radiation therapy over a period of five years. After multiple ‘deposits of data,’ the study found that these men had “no clinically significant detrimental long-term effect [after one year] in either total sperm number or sperm concentration.”
The researchers also noted that, while this is promising news, further study is going to be needed, as this was a small sample size. Additionally, it is still important that doctors “offer patients sperm banking before orchiectomy as a number of patients may have low sperm counts before orchiectomy and remain so also after adjuvant treatment.” For the record, I do have about a few million little Justins on ice up in northern Virginia.
While I realize the majority of the readers of my column may not be currently facing testicular cancer, I still chose to focus my writing this week on this topic for two simple reasons—and I don’t mean the two reasons hanging between most of your legs. Testicular cancer is the most common form of cancer in young men and about one in every 250 men will be diagnosed in their lifetime.
Since it is considered a “young man’s disease,” it may strike men before they enter fatherhood and they may be afraid that their dreams of becoming a dad are shattered. This study should help put minds at ease and cease most worries. In my opinion, the best protection against losing your fertility to testicular cancer is the same defense from testicular cancer in general—performing regular self-exams.
Best done during or after a shower when the scrotum is relaxed, a self-exam is a quick and effective way to catch testicular cancer early on. Just place your index and middle fingers under the testicle with your thumb on top. Firmly but gently, roll the testicle between your fingers. Any weird lumps or bumps should be checked out by a doctor ASAP. When you get out of the shower, be sure to look for signs of changes in shape, color, or swelling.
If you take a few moments every month to perform a self-exam, you increase the likelihood of catching testicular cancer in early stages, which then will help to minimize potential damages to fertility.
Hopefully this new study about the effect of testicular cancer helps give birth to inspiration for you to cradle your own ‘babies’ soon!
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