Sperm freezing (cryopreservation) preserves sperm for future use in order to have a baby. There are various reasons why you may need to freeze your sperm including;
• If you have a medical condition or are about to undergo treatment such as chemotherapy which may result in infertility.
• If you are planning to have a vasectomy and wish to have sperm available for future use.
• If you have a low sperm count or the quality of your sperm is progressively deteriorating over time.
• If you think you may be unable to produce a fresh sample for IVF treatment
• If you have to undergo a surgical sperm extraction (e.g. TESE) in advance of an ICSI treatment cycle.
What does sperm freezing involve?
Sperm freezing is a relatively quick procedure. You will meet with a fertility specialist to discuss the process of cryopreserving sperm and the options for future use.
At Waterstone Clinic (Cork, Dublin, Limerick and Waterford) we have private, dedicated rooms for sample production and you can arrange to produce the sample in the clinic.
Alternatively, you can choose to produce the sample at home but the sample must reach the clinic within one hour of production and kept warm during transport.
How do I prepare for producing the sample?
You are advised to abstain from intercourse/masturbation for 3 days prior to the production of the sample. It is advised not to abstain any longer than this as this can affect the results of the test. Ideally, to prepare for sperm freezing, ejaculate 3 days prior to the test and then abstain until the test.
How is the sperm cryopreserved?
The laboratory staff will assess the sample’s suitability for cryopreservation. After the semen analysis has been carried out and healthy sperm is identified, a volume of cryoprotectant medium (a fluid that protects the sperm cells during sperm freezing) is added to the sample. The sample is then frozen in high security sperm straws over the course of ten minutes. Upon completion of cryopreservation, the frozen straws are stored in liquid nitrogen tanks at -196 o C.
For how long can sperm be frozen?
In the controlled freezing conditions sperm can survive the freezing process indefinitely. Not all sperm survive the freeze- thaw process but the length of time held in storage does not impact the chances of survival. Sperm can be held in storage until such time as you choose to use it for fertility treatment or you advise us to thaw and discard the sample. Each storage period is 3 years with consent required after each period to continue storage.
All men who opt to freeze sperm, irrespective of the reason for freezing, need to complete consent forms before starting treatment to specify the conditions of storage and future use. This includes information on:
• The length of time the sperm is to be stored
• Your wishes for what should happen to your sperm if you were to die or become unable to make decisions for yourself.
• Any other conditions you may have for the use of your sperm.
What are my options for fertility treatment?
Once you choose to use the sample for fertility treatment you and your partner will be assessed by one of our consultants. The treatment option will be individualised to your specific situation.
The options for treatment include:
Intrauterine insemination (IUI):
This is dependent on a normal semen analysis and normal female fertility (normal ovarian reserve and open Fallopian tubes)
In vitro fertilisation (IVF):
This will be recommended where the semen sample is normal but there is a concern about your partner’s fertility such as a reduced ovarian reserve or blocked Fallopian tubes.
Intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI):
This is reserved for cases of poor sperm quality such as a reduced number or reduced motility of sperm.
Using frozen sperm is just as successful as using fresh sperm in fertility treatments. Not all the sperm needs to be thawed and used at once, generally one straw will be thawed for use in each fertility treatment depending on the quality of the sperm. This means that the sperm can be used in several treatment cycles as necessary.