Sperm storage (sperm banking)
If a man has his sperm frozen and stored prior to chemotherapy/ radiotherapy these can be thawed and used to treat his partner. Sperm storage can also be useful prior to vasectomy or certain types of surgery that might affect a man’s fertility e.g. bladder neck surgery. If following a sperm retrieval procedure (including; PESA, TESA, TESE, MESA) sufficient good quality sperm are retrieved, the sperm will be frozen in liquid nitrogen and can then be thawed out and used at any convenient time.
The sperm storage process
The process of sperm storage starts with a discussion with the biologist who explains fully how the sperm are frozen and gives details of the consent forms that must be signed by law.
The man is asked to produce three semen samples, each one after a period of 2-3 days sexual abstinence (if this is possible). The freezing is carried out by a scientific specialist in the field of infertility. A brief assessment of sperm quality is carried out and then the sample is frozen in liquid nitrogen at 196oC. All samples containing sperm are frozen. The results of the semen analysis and any post-thaw tests are sent to the referring doctor.
Patients who have sperm frozen should be aware that:
- There is no guarantee of sperm quality if and when it is thawed.
- Illness at the time of freezing or prior to it could affect the number and quality of sperm.
- If the sperm are of poor quality assisted conception procedures such as IVF or ICSI may be required to achieve a pregnancy in the future.
- The maximum period for which sperm may be stored is ten years if they are over 45. If under 45 then sperm can be stored up until the 55th birthday if, in the opinion of a registered medical practitioner, the man’s fertility is likely to be permanently impaired.
- It will be necessary to screen any man about to undergo sperm freezing for Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and HIV. The man’s semen will be held until the results of the tests are available and will then be transferred into a suitable long term storage vessel.
Although clear semen will never knowingly be stored alongside infected semen, there is a slim chance that cross-contamination could occur while the semen is in the quarantine container. If a sample is stored for any amount of time alongside a sample known to be infected then the patient involved would be informed and would decide whether or not to use the sample.
It should be noted that the risk of cross-contamination is at this time thought to be very slim. It should also be noted that the current system is not a full quarantine system but a screening system. A full quarantine system would involve a re-screen after 6 months before transfer from an individual quarantine flask. If you have any queries about this please contact a scientist at the Centre.
Change of patient details
Patients must also make sure that they inform the unit of any change in their address or health status so that review of the storage may take place.