Sperm collection and storage (sperm banking) | Cancer Research UK
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What sperm banking is

Sperm banking is the name for the collection and storage of semen. Semen is the fluid that contains sperm. Sperm banking is also known as sperm cryopreservation or semen storage.

Some cancer treatments can affect men’s fertility so that they are not able to father children afterwards. Collecting sperm before treatment means that you may still be able to have children in the future if you want to. The sperm is frozen and stored until you decide you want to use it to have a baby.

 

Fertility and cancer

Some cancer treatments cause infertility in men. These treatments include

  • Some chemotherapy drugs
  • Radiotherapy to particular parts of the body, including the abdomen
  • Surgery to particular parts of the body, such as removal of the testicles or some types of prostate surgery

Before you start cancer treatment, your doctor will tell you whether it is likely to mean you can no longer father children. Your fertility may be affected permanently or temporarily. If it is temporary, you will become fertile again once you have finished treatment. The time that this takes varies from person to person. It also depends on the type of treatment you have had. It usually takes at least a few months after the end of treatment.

You can read more about chemotherapy and fertility in this section. And we have a page about fertility after radiotherapy on this page.

 

Who needs to bank sperm?

You should consider storing sperm if you think you might want to have children in the future and your cancer treatment might prevent this. You need to store sperm before starting treatment. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE)  recommends that doctors should offer sperm banking to any man having cancer treatment that may affect their fertility. Teenage boys who have been through puberty can also collect and store sperm.

Some men are not well enough to bank sperm. Others may not be able to bank sperm if they have a type of cancer that needs treatment as soon as it is diagnosed. This includes some types of leukaemia and lymphoma. If treatment needs to start quickly there may not be enough time. Or there may only be time to collect one sample.

Some kinds of cancer can affect the quality and number of sperm you produce. A laboratory will analyse your first sample, to check the quality and number of sperm.

You can still bank sperm if your sperm count is low. A technique called intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) is available (pronounced in-tra-sy-toe-plaz-mik). They take a single sperm and fertilise it with an egg in a test tube. So you may still be able to father a child.

Occasionally, men can’t produce a sample. In this situation you may be able to have some fluid or tissue taken from your testicle. If you are making sperm, they will be in the fluid or tissue, and that can be frozen for later use. This treatment takes time. So if you need cancer treatment quickly you may not be able to have this.

If you have started treatment you can’t bank sperm. This is because some treatments, such as cancer drugs or radiotherapy, may damage sperm temporarily.

Research is looking at collecting tissue from the testes in young boys who haven’t been through puberty. This may mean that they are able to father children in the future.

 

Where you go

Most people go to a specialist fertility clinic or a clinic that is part of the hospital.

There are a number of steps to sperm banking.

Tests you need beforehand

Before you can bank sperm you need to have blood tests to check for infections. These are the same checks that you have when giving blood. They include blood tests for HIV, hepatitis and a virus called cytomegalovirus (CMV).

Consent

You need to sign a consent form for sperm banking. This includes information about

  • What happens to the sperm if you are no longer able to make decisions for yourself or if you die
  • How long you want to store the sperm for – this is usually 10 years
  • Whether your partner can use the sperm to have a baby if you die
  • Whether you want to be named as the father if a child is born
  • Whether your sperm can be used for research or donated for use in someone else’s fertility treatment
  • Any other conditions you want to state about how the sperm can be used

Collecting your sample

To get the best sample you should not have sexual intercourse or masturbate for 3 or 4 days beforehand. This helps you collect the highest number of sperm.

Most men feel some embarrassment when they go to the clinic. Some men find it difficult to produce a sample. It can be a rather pressurising situation. You may find it helpful to take your partner along. Or you can take things that you know will help excite you, such as magazines.

It can be especially difficult for teenagers. If you are a teenager it is worth thinking about whether you want anyone to go to the clinic with you. If you do take someone, think carefully about who you would like to take. It may be easier to take a friend or an older brother rather than your parents.

At the clinic a nurse will show you into a private room. You produce the sample by masturbating. Don’t use any lubricant, spit or saliva because it can kill the sperm. You collect the sample in a sterile container. Don’t use a condom because most condoms are coated in chemicals that kill sperm. The nurse will tell you who to give the container to. The clinic will test the sample to see

  • How many sperm it contains (the sperm count)
  • How many of the sperm can swim (motility)
  • How many sperm have a normal shape (morphology)

The clinic makes sure the sample is labelled correctly and then freezes it in liquid nitrogen.

Most clinics recommend collecting at least 2 samples, and if possible 3. This depends on how quickly you need to start cancer treatment. You need to leave at least 2 days between each collection.

 

Cost of sperm storage

In some areas of the UK, sperm banking is available free on the NHS. In other areas you have to pay for it. NICE recommends that sperm storage is available to men who may become infertile because of cancer treatment. But each area can choose whether they store sperm for free or whether you need to pay.

If you do need to pay, the cost varies from area to area. Collecting and freezing the samples can cost between £200 and £400. Then you pay about £300 a year to store them.

The clinic storing your sperm will write to you once a year. They check whether you want to continue storing your sperm. If you do, either you or your local NHS pay the yearly fee. It is important to let the clinic know of any change of details, such as a change of address, so that they can still contact you. If they can’t find out whether you still want to carry on storing the samples they will destroy them.

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Society (HFEA) code of practice says that clinics should give you a cost plan before you start fertility treatment or storage of sperm. This should include an idea of the tests you need and how much they will cost, as well as the treatment plan.

 

How long can I store the sperm?

The usual time you can store sperm is 10 years. You can extend this up to a maximum of 55 years if you stay infertile.

If you don’t use the samples they can be discarded or donated for research.

 

When you want to start a family

Not everyone becomes infertile after treatment. Some men have temporary infertility but become fertile again after a time. So, when you and your partner decide that you want to start a family, you may want to try for a pregnancy naturally. You can ask your doctor for a sperm analysis. This shows if you have enough sperm to try for a baby naturally. To do this you need to give a fresh sample of semen.

If you have no sperm, or your sperm count is low or poor quality, your doctor can refer you to a fertility specialist. The specialist can work out the best way for you and your partner to try to become pregnant.

You may have one of the following

  • Intra uterine insemination
  • In vitro fertilisation (IVF)

For intra uterine insemination, the doctor thaws the sperm and puts them into your partner’s womb with a thin, soft tube (catheter) when her ovaries are producing an egg (ovulating).

For IVF, your partner needs to have hormone injections to encourage her ovaries to produce eggs. A doctor collects the eggs and then either injects a single sperm into an egg or mixes the eggs with the sperm in a test tube. The doctor then puts the fertilised eggs into your partner’s womb.

In some areas of the UK, fertility treatments are funded by the NHS. NICE recommends that if the woman is aged 39 or less, a couple should be able to have 3 full cycles of in vitro fertilisation (IVF) or ICSI if cancer treatment means they are unlikely to have a baby naturally.

If the woman is between 40 and 42 and hasn’t already had IVF, NICE recommends that one cycle is offered free. But this guidance is not followed in all areas of the UK. The Infertility Network UK has detailed information about NHS funding across the UK.

 

Success rates for having a baby

The success rates using thawed sperm vary and they depend on the quality of the sperm once it has thawed. Freezing and thawing sperm damages some of them. Sperm banking has produced thousands of babies but it doesn’t guarantee that you will be able to father a child.

There are no known risks to the man, or to any babies born from using frozen sperm.

The following success rates are from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Society and  include healthy people having treatment using insemination and IVF.

The HFEA says the success rates depend on the age of the woman receiving the sperm

  • For women under 35, the success rate is around 20 births out of 100 treatments (20%)
  • For women aged 35 to 39, the success rate is around 15 out of 100 (15%)
  • For women aged 40 to 42, the success rate is around 7 out of 100 (7%)
 

Coping with possible infertility

It can be very difficult to cope when you are worried that you may not be able to have a child after cancer treatment. Most fertility clinics have counsellors you can speak to. You can also ask your specialist cancer nurse. They can arrange counselling for you and your partner. In our section about counselling you can find out about counselling and how it can help.

 

Questions to ask

Here are some suggestions for questions you might like to ask your doctor about cancer treatment and sperm banking.

  • Will my treatment make me infertile?
  • Can I have sperm banking?
  • Where do I go to give a sperm sample?
  • Do I have to pay for sperm banking?
  • If I have to pay, how much will it cost for collection and storage?
  • Will I be able to get fertility treatment within the NHS when I want to start a family?
  • How soon after my treatment can I have tests to find out whether I can have a child naturally?
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Updated: 10 July 2015