How do cancer and cancer treatments affect the reproductive function of men? Can this affect the health of their direct descendants and subsequent generations?

“It’s important to understand the mechanisms of action of chemotherapy on spermatogenesis to help clinicians make informed decisions on adjusting treatment, reducing side effects, and better advising patients on family planning,” says INRS’s Dr. Géraldine Delbès, reproductive toxicology specialist and the author in charge of this study.


  • Radiation and exposure to alkylating agents have more harmful effects on male fertility and offspring.
  • Even without these agents, a combination of drugs can also induce the death of cells in the early cellular stage of spermatogenesis (spermatogonia) with a higher toxicity than either component alone.
  • Spermatogenesis can recover in some patients depending on the type of cancer and the dose and duration of treatment received, but such recovery is still clinically unpredictable.
  • Freezing sperm before treatment is recommended when possible.
  • Cancer and chemotherapy may affect the DNA of sperm, even after a remission period.
  • Men with a history of cancer can experience fertility issues and increased embryo loss.
  • There is no increase in transmission of genetic mutation to offspring following cancer treatments.
  • There is no significant increase in the frequency of post-natal mortality, birth defects and hospitalization rate among the children of male cancer survivors compared to the general population.
  • There has been a decrease in side effects due to the development of better treatments, limiting the use of radiation.
  • Experimental data suggest that subtle effects can be observed on several generations supporting the need for continued multigenerational monitoring in humans.

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