The man produces a sperm sample through masturbation in a private room in the clinic where the sperm is to be stored. A lubricant is not used as this can damage the sperm. Small amounts of sperm are placed in straws which are carefully labelled. These straws are then frozen and stored in a tank with liquid nitrogen. If possible, several samples are stored to make sure there is enough sperm to conceive one or several children. While the freezing process usually affects the quality of the sperm, in most cases plenty of good quality sperm survive.
Men with cancer can have their sperm frozen before they begin cancer treatment. After treatment, a man can have a sperm test to find out if his fertility has been affected. If it has not, there is no need to keep the frozen sperm. However, if the sperm test shows that fertility has been affected, the stored sperm can be used in an ART procedure when the man and his partner are ready to have children. If the female partner does not have a fertility problem she can be inseminated with thawed sperm at the time of ovulation (intrauterine insemination). If she has a fertility problem or if the the quality of the frozen sperm is not suboptimal, IVF or the ICSI procedure may be required. ART procedures are not guaranteed methods of achieving a pregnancy but they do give male cancer survivors a good chance of becoming a father.
Sperm can be stored safely for years and the length of time sperm is frozen does not affect the health of any future children. Some states have a legal storage time limit, although in most cases the storage limit can be easily extended. Clinic staff can provide information about the laws in the state where the sperm is frozen. It is important that the clinic has up-to-date contact details for those with frozen sperm.