Freezing and storing sperm

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Freezing gametes for storageWhat is sperm freezing and storage?

Sperm can be frozen for future use either in artificial insemination or other fertility treatments, or be donated.

Donated sperm has to be stored for six months before it can be used in treatment, in order to screen the donor for infections.

Sperm cells have been frozen, thawed and successfully used in treatment for more than 40 years, although not all sperm survive the freezing process.
 

Is sperm freezing and storage for me?

Storing your sperm may enable you to use them for treatment in the future. You may want to consider freezing your sperm if:

  • you have a condition, or are facing medical treatment for a condition, that may affect your fertility
  • you are about to have a vasectomy
  • you have a low sperm count or the quality of your sperm is deteriorating
  • you have difficulty producing a sample on the day of fertility treatment 
  • you are at risk of injury or death (eg, you’re a member of the Armed Forces who is being deployed to a war zone)
  • you are about to undergo a sex change operation.

For more information on preserving fertility if you have cancer see:

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What happens when sperm are frozen?

  1. Before you agree to the freezing and storage of your sperm, your clinician will explain the process involved.
  2. You will be screened for infectious diseases, including HIV and hepatitis B and C.
  3. You will need to give written consent for your sperm to be stored (see p81).
  4. At the clinic, you produce a fresh sample of sperm.
  5. The sperm are frozen and then stored in a storage tank containing liquid nitrogen.

 

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How much control do I have over what happens to my sperm?

When you first freeze your sperm, the clinic will ask you to fill out consent forms.

The forms allow you to specify:

  • what will happen to your sperm should you become unable to make decisions for yourself or die 
  • how long you want to store your sperm (the standard storage period is 10 years) 
  • whether your partner (if you have one) can use the sperm later to create a family and whether you wish to be recorded as the father of any child born as a result of fertility treatment after your death 
  • whether your sperm can be used in research or donated for use in someone else’s treatment 
  • any other conditions you may have for the use of your sperm.

You can vary or withdraw your consent at any time, either before treatment or before the sperm are used in research.

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What happens when sperm are stored?

When you store sperm, make sure you understand the limits on the storage time and keep in contact with the clinic.

  • The standard storage period for sperm is normally 10 years. This period can be exceeded only in certain circumstances, up to a maximum of 55 years. Your clinician will be able to explain whether you can do this, and how long you may be able to store your sperm.
  • You must let the clinic know if you change address. This is so they can contact you when the storage period is coming to an end. If they cannot contact you when the storage period ends, they will take your sperm out of storage and allow them to perish.

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What happens when I want to use my sperm?

Your treatment options may include IUI, IVF or, if your sperm are not of optimum quality, ICSI.

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What is my chance of having a baby with stored sperm?

Some sperm do not survive or are damaged during freezing. This means that after freezing there may be a reduction in quality. Some frozen sperm samples that are of poor quality can only be used for Intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI).

Success rates are averaged over DI cycles and all IVF cycles using donor sperm. For each treatment cycle, the success rate varies depending on the age of the woman. If the woman is:

  • under 35, the success rate is around 19%  
  • 35–39, the success rate is around 15%  
  • 40–42, the success rate is around 7%

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What are the risks of freezing and storing sperm?

HFEA is not aware of any risks to patients or children from using frozen sperm.

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What are the options for men or boys having cancer treatment? 

Storing sperm is the only established way to preserve male fertility. Studies have shown that sperm can be retrieved and stored from patients as young as 13 years old, and storing sperm for a long time should not alter its ability to fertilise an egg.

However, researchers are exploring ways for younger boys to preserve their fertility before undergoing cancer treatment, by freezing testicular tissue. These techniques could also help men who are unable to produce sperm.

Testicular tissue from boys who have not yet reached puberty does not contain sperm but it does contain cells that will form sperm. This technique is still highly experimental and involves taking a small piece of tissue from a testicle which is then frozen and stored (either as individual cells or as a piece of tissue).

After the cancer has been treated, the cells or tissue could be injected or transplanted back into the patient and will potentially restore natural fertility. Alternatively, in the future, researchers may be able to produce sperm from these cells in a laboratory. This sperm could then fertilise an egg in a laboratory and be used in fertility treatment. Storage of testicular tissue is becoming more common for young cancer patients with the hope that these methods will be used in clinics in the near future.

 

Any clinic which is licensed by the HFEA to store sperm can also store testicular tissue. However, currently only a few centres in the UK offer this service. 

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Page last updated: 05 August 2014

Who offers sperm freezing and storage?

To find the clinic nearest to you that offers sperm storage, use the advanced search on our Choose a Fertility Clinic database.