During the in vitro fertilization (IVF) process, partners have options as to what they want to do with the remaining embryos after a select few are used for transfer into the womb. Three types of cryopreservation are available for patients, including:
Semen freezing is beneficial for male patients or partners who struggle to conceive. Cryopreservation is an ideal option for men who have difficulty producing sperm on a schedule, and during fertility treatments, having sperm on demand is often impossible – especially for male patients who are not readily available.
Sperm freezing is also a viable option for men who anticipate undergoing medical procedures that will drastically reduce sperm count, such as radiation treatment or chemotherapy. Freezing semen before starting harsh medical treatments keeps the chances of pregnancy alive for many couples. Additionally, freezing sperm is recommended for patients who have undergone a vasectomy reversal – in some cases, the sperm ducts may become detached or blocked, so freezing sperm early on ensures there are samples available in the event blockage happens.
Sperm is collected after ejaculation within the hour of being produced and tested in a laboratory facility. During the analysis, the sperm is observed for quality and quantity before being preserved through cryopreservation. The sample is divided into small amounts and placed into a vial to undergo the freezing process, which takes approximately three hours. The number of vials required depends on the quantity of the sperm sample.
The next day, a test vial is observed and thawed to analyze the sperm count after it’s been through the thawing process. As with any cryopreservation, the freezing and thawing process does reduce the number of healthy sperm – though the length of time in which the semen is frozen does not have an effect on the quality of sperm. Typically, one-half of frozen sperm do not survive the freezing and thawing process.
Various factors will determine how many samples should be cryopreserved, including:
Number of children the patient already has
To ensure the highest quality specimen, patients are encouraged not to engage in sexual activity for at least three days prior to the collection, but no longer than ten days. Patients are provided sterile containers to contain the ejaculate – if a patient has difficultly, a penile vibratory stimulator may be used to encourage an erection and ejaculation.
Once the sample is collected, they are analyzed in a laboratory for pH levels, volume and viscosity as well as viewed under a microscope for sperm count, motility and morphology. Remaining sperm are added to vials and combined with cryoprotectant, which protects the sperm during the freezing process. The preservation process starts by cooling the vials down in liquid nitrogen vapors for three hours and then submerging them in liquid nitrogen during storage.
Benefits of Semen Freezing
There are many benefits to semen freezing to protect the semen should personal circumstances change or medical treatments are needed, which might cause sterility. Sperm freezing is ideal in these cases:
Prior to testicular or prostate surgery
Prior to a vasectomy
As part of the IVF process
High risk occupations
Prior to cancer therapy
Low quality sperm
Cost of Semen Freezing
The cost of semen freezing in the United States depends on location and analysis options. Semen analysis costs between $85 and $200 USD to test complete, partial, post vasectomy semen, depending on the needs of the patient. Sperm washing or gender pre-selection ranges between $150 and $700 USD, while cryopreservation services and storage range between $250 and $1,000 USD depending on the length of time.
Who Specializes in Semen Freezing Procedures?
Infertility experts are trained to implement the initial treatments of infertility treatments. Such a physician or fertility specialist should be board certified in reproductive endocrinology and infertility. Couples should find specialists who are a member of endocrinologist organizations or technologies. As such, they have completed medical school programs, followed by four years of residency training in obstetrics and gynecology, and ART (assisted reproduction technology) and then, two to three years of training in fertility within an approved program that results in board certification.