National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE)
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Male cancer patients missing out on sperm banking

Many men - whose fertility may be at risk from cancer treatment - are being denied the chance to store their sperm, as doctors fail to follow NICE recommendations, latest research suggests.

NICE fertility guidelines state that men or adolescent boys who are receiving cancer treatment that may leave them infertile should be offered the opportunity to store their sperm.

But in a study funded by Cancer Research UK, researchers at the University of Warwick and University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust found that only half of oncologists and haematologists across the UK agreed that information on sperm banking is readily available to patients, despite the presence of guidelines from NICE.

In a survey of nearly 500 clinicians, the researchers also found that 21 per cent were unaware of any local policies on sperm banking.

And only a quarter of oncologists and 38 per cent of haematologists reported that discussions about sperm banking with male cancer patients are being documented systematically, yet nearly all doctors believed it was an integral part of their role to raise this topic.

Almost half of respondents, 42 per cent, said that they had offered sperm banking to patients who had already been through chemo or radiotherapy, contradicting NICE guidance.

Writing in the Annuals of Oncology, lead researcher Dr Ann Adams, from Warwick Medical School, said: “Our findings are very concerning and show that doctors in the UK aren't following sperm banking guidance, meaning many men are missing the opportunity to store their sperm for the future.

“Instead it appears that clinicians are deciding who is offered the chance to bank sperm based on their own personal beliefs, attitudes and assumptions about their patients' likelihood of starting a family in the future.

“Doctors know that many chemotherapy drugs can cause problems with fertility, so it's vital that all teenagers and men of any age who may want to start a family in the future are given the chance to bank their sperm.”

Professor Geraldine Hartshorne, also from Warwick Medical School, added: “We're urging clinicians to discuss sperm banking with all their male cancer patients. Improved awareness and access to training for clinicians would hopefully increase both the opportunity and the uptake of sperm banking for cancer patients.”

Martin Ledwick, head information nurse at Cancer Research UK, said: “We hope this new research raises awareness of the sorts of discussions cancer patients should be having with their doctors and results in all men being offered the opportunity to bank their sperm for future use. More and more people are surviving cancer so finding ways to improve their quality of life after treatment is becoming increasingly important.”

NICE is currently in the process of updating its 2004 guidance on the assessment and treatment of people with fertility problems. The final updated guideline is not expected to be published before 2012 and until then, NHS bodies should continue to follow the recommendations from the current guideline.


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