Definition - What does Gonadotoxicity mean?

Gonadotoxicity is the damage to gonads, namely the testes and ovaries, by substances that are either produced in the body (eg: antibodies) or introduced into the body (eg: cancer drugs) or by environmental factors such as extreme temperatures or radiation. It can lead to partial or complete loss of gonadal function, and the effects may be permanent or temporary. Gonadotoxicity leads to an absent or reduced production of egg or sperm that can result in infertility in both men and women.

FertilitySmarts explains Gonadotoxicity

A gonad is the reproductive gland of an organism that is responsible for the production of gametes. In humans, the ovaries in the females and the testes in males play the primary role in reproduction by producing eggs and sperm.

The production of gametes, also known as gametogenesis, that happens in the ovaries and testes is a complex process that involves multiple steps of cell division and maturation. For gametogenesis to occur normally, there has to be a perfect balance of hormones, genetics factors, nutrition and environmental factors such as the temperature. Any interference with the normal process can result in gonadotoxicity.

Common causes that can lead to gonadotoxicity are:

  • Chemotherapy medications
  • Other gonadotoxic medications (eg: Lithium, Colchicine, Tricyclic antidepressants, Antipsychotics)
  • Radiotherapy
  • Antibodies produced in the body against gonadal tissue (autoantibodies)

Gonadotoxicity can sometimes be temporary and the gonads may recover their function completely after the substance is withdrawn, but if gonads are exposed to a prolonged or a high-intensity substance it can lead to permanent loss of gonadal function.

For a patient who is planning to undergo treatment or procedures that are likely to result in gonadotoxicity, there are methods of fertility preservation available. This typically includes having gametes are harvested prior to the treatment or procedure and frozen to be used to attempt to achieve pregnancy at a later date.

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