Cancer treatment and gonadal function: experimental and established strategies for fertility preservation in children and young adults

Lancet Diabetes Endocrinol. 2015 Jul;3(7):556-67. doi: 10.1016/S2213-8587(15)00039-X. Epub 2015 Apr 12.


Preservation of gonadal function is an important priority for the long-term health of cancer survivors of both sexes and all ages at treatment. Loss of opportunity for fertility is a prime concern in both male and female cancer survivors, but endocrine effects of gonadal damage are likewise central to long-term health and wellbeing. Some fertility preservation techniques, such as semen and embryo cryopreservation, are established and successful in adults, and development of oocyte vitrification has greatly improved the potential to cryopreserve unfertilised oocytes. Despite being recommended for all pubertal male patients, sperm banking is not universally practised in paediatric oncology centres, and very few adolescent-friendly facilities exist. All approaches to fertility preservation have specific challenges in children and teenagers, including ethical, practical, and scientific issues. For young women, cryopreservation of ovarian cortical tissue with later replacement has resulted in at least 40 livebirths, but is still regarded as experimental in most countries. For prepubertal boys, testicular biopsy cryopreservation is offered in some centres, but how that tissue might be used in the future is unclear, and so far no evidence suggests that fertility can be restored. For both sexes, these approaches involve an invasive procedure and have an uncertain risk of tissue contamination in haematological and other malignancies. Decision making for all these approaches needs assessment of the individual's risk of fertility loss, and is made at a time of emotional distress. Development of this specialty needs better provision of information for patients and their medical teams, and improvements in service provision, to match technical and scientific advances.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Female
  • Fertility / drug effects*
  • Fertility / radiation effects*
  • Fertility Preservation*
  • Gonads / drug effects*
  • Gonads / radiation effects*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Risk Factors
  • Young Adult