Freezing Sperm to Preserve Fertility

Chemotherapy, radiation and cancer surgery may impair a man’s fertility by reducing the quality of sperm or halting sperm production. For some men, sperm production may resume within a few years of treatment. For others, fertility may be lost forever. Cancer treatment also may affect a man’s ability to ejaculate.

Cancer treatment does not have to end a man’s ability to have children. Through sperm-preserving techniques offered at the Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin Reproductive Medicine Center, fatherhood can be possible — in the near future or many years down the road.

Sperm preservation techniques may be covered by health insurance. Ask your insurance company about coverage.

Sperm Freezing (Cryopreservation)

Before beginning cancer treatment, sperm can be collected and frozen, or cryopreserved.

Depending on when treatment begins, a man may be able to provide multiple samples of sperm for freezing. Even if only one sperm sample can be provided, a man should consider doing so. Advances in reproductive medicine techniques make it possible for successful fertilization to be achieved using a single sperm cell.

Cryopreservation is a safe and effective way to preserve sperm. Sperm are tested to ensure they are healthy before they are frozen and the frozen sperm can be stored indefinitely. Typically, about half of the sperm survive the freezing process.

The sperm can be thawed and used with intrauterine insemination or in vitro fertilization.

While it may be possible to retrieve sperm after cancer treatment, freezing sperm before treatment should be considered for several reasons. Depending on the treatment, it may take three to five years or longer for the man to produce sperm again. In some cases, there may be no sperm production at all, or the sperm quality may be greatly reduced.

Cost is another consideration. The least costly approach is to provide sperm through ejaculation for freezing. The cost to retrieve sperm surgically, before or after treatment, is higher.

Testicular Tissue Freezing

If a man is unable to produce sperm, unable to ejaculate or has no sperm in his ejaculate, testicular tissue banking may help recover sperm for later fertility treatments.

Because sperm may still exist in the testes, small pieces of the testicular tissue are removed and frozen. This is done during an outpatient procedure.

When a man is ready, the tissue is thawed and the sperm retrieved. The sperm is then used to fertilize eggs by intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), an in vitro fertilization (IVF) procedure in which a single sperm is injected directly into an egg to attempt fertilization. Each piece of testicular tissue can provide enough sperm for an IVF cycle.