Get access

Suppression of testosterone stimulates recovery of spermatogenesis after cancer treatment


 Marvin L. Meistrich, PhD, Department of Experimental Radiation Oncology – Box 66, University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, 1515 Holcombe Blvd., Houston, TX 77030, USA. E-mail:


It is important to develop methods to prevent or reverse the infertility caused by chemotherapy or radiation therapy for cancer in men. Radiation and some chemotherapeutic agents kill spermatogonial stem cells, but we have shown that these cells survive in rats, although they are unable to differentiate. There is evidence that this phenomenon also occurs in men. The block to spermatogonial differentiation in rats is caused by some unknown change, either in the spermatogonia or the somatic elements of the testis, such that testosterone inhibits spermatogonial differentiation. In the rat, the spermatogenesis and fertility lost following treatment with radiation or some chemotherapeutic agents can be restored by suppressing testosterone with gonadotropin releasing hormone (GnRH) agonists or antagonists, either before or after the cytotoxic insult. The applicability of this procedure to humans is still unknown. Some anticancer regimens may kill all the stem cells, in which case the only option would be spermatogonial transplantation. However, in some cases stem cells survive and there is one report of stimulation of recovery of spermatogenesis with hormonal treatment. Clinical trials should focus on treating patients with hormones during or soon after anticancer treatment. The hormone regimen should involve suppression of testosterone production with minimum androgen supplementation used to improve the diminished libido.