Cleveland Clinic's sperm banking services are world class. Learn more about sperm banking from our experts.
What is Sperm Banking?
Learn more about Cleveland Clinic's top-ranked urology program in the nation
Cleveland Clinic's Andrology Laboratory and Reproductive Tissue Bank has provided therapeutic sperm banking services since 1980 – longer than any other facility in Ohio. The laboratory staff is trained in the latest, most effective freezing, storage and recovery techniques, and works under the direction of a sperm cryopreservation specialist. The highest standards are used in accurately labeling and identifying specimens. Cleveland Clinic's laboratory is CLIA – certified and is also accredited by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine and the College of American Pathologists. Our sperm banking facilities are inspected by the FDA and in compliance with FDA regulations.
Additionally, home sperm banking is available from Cleveland Clinic.
Why Would Someone Need Sperm Banking?
Sperm banking is used when a man may want to have children in the future, but current circumstances prevent the certainty that they'll be able to conserve through traditional methods. This can be because of dangerous military deployment overseas, cancer or other disease treatments which cause infertility, and many other situations.
If you want to have children, when undergoing major procedures, it is a good idea to ask your doctor about any potential negative complications that could lead to infertility.
How Does Sperm Banking Work?
Sperm banking is a muti-stage process to ensure quality control from specimen collection to long term storage.
At your first visit, you will be asked to complete a questionnaire about your diagnosis and planned treatment and a contract and other legal forms related to sperm banking. You will be informed by the technologist making the appointment of any documents or records you need to bring in order to complete these forms.
An appointment is required for all visits. We generally can schedule one within 24 to 48 hours. After your first visit, weekend times are available for subsequent banking. At the time you make an appointment, we will request the following information:
- name and address, phone number, and date of birth
- your diagnosis
- the reason you are requesting sperm banking
- your Social Security number (for registration purposes)
- an order for sperm banking from your referring physician
- the name, address and phone number of your referring physician
- the starting date for chemotherapy, radiation therapy or surgery
How are specimens collected?
Semen specimens are collected on-site at Cleveland Clinic's Andrology Laboratory in a private collection room. We recommend collecting the sample at the laboratory, because the sample’s freshness affects fertility. Within minutes after ejaculation, the number of living sperm cells and their activity begin to drop off rapidly. You will be given a sterile collection cup for your specimen. Manual stimulation to orgasm, either by yourself, or with your wife or significant other, is the only recommended method. Using oral sex or intercourse to ejaculate could contaminate the semen with bacteria.
Every specimen is carefully labeled and coded to ensure accurate identification and confidentiality. Cleveland Clinic's Andrology Laboratory and Sperm Bank has a system of checks to ensure that specimens are properly identified at the time of storage, during storage and at the time of release. Each specimen is marked with your name, patient identification number, an internal control number and the date. Each donor’s complete record is kept in the Andrology Laboratory. As an additional safety measure, your photograph or driver's license photocopy is taken at your first visit and becomes part of your permanent file for identification purposes.
A small part of the sample is drawn off for testing. The rest of the specimen is divided into small amounts and placed with a cryopreservative (a chemical that helps protect sperm during the freezing process) in containers called cryo vials. The freezing process begins right away, with the cryo vials being placed in a freezer for 8 minutes at a temperature below freezing. This step avoids killing sperm from a too-rapid drop in temperature. Specimens are then put into extremely cold liquid nitrogen vapor for two hours. Finally, they are lowered into a storage tank containing liquid nitrogen for permanent storage.
Semen may be stored indefinitely at the final temperature of -196° C. A man may store his sperm with Cleveland Clinic's Andrology Laboratory and Sperm Bank for an open-ended period of years, with an annual storage fee.
What tests are done on the sperm?
Every time you store a semen sample, a small portion is separated out before freezing for testing by a specially trained laboratory technologist. A complete, computerized semen analysis is performed. This analysis will reveal:
- The total number of sperm present in the sample
- The total number of motile sperm
- The percentage motility and number of total motile sperm (motility)
Between 24 and 48 hours after the samples are frozen, one post-thaw vial is thawed and the specimen is analyzed to measure the percentage of sperm that recover from freezing. The better the semen quality in general, and the higher the recovery rate after thawing, the fewer specimens that need to be stored. Based on the results of these tests, the laboratory director can recommend the optimal number one should consider freezing in order to have the best chance of successful fertility treatment in the future. You also may receive feedback on whether artificial insemination or in vitro fertilization would be your most viable treatment option.
How many samples should be preserved?
If semen quality is high enough to permit artificial insemination as your eventual choice of fertility treatment, the chance of a successful pregnancy will increase with the number of samples you bank. More samples allow more attempts at insemination. If the treatment will be in vitro fertilization, one sample may be enough, but it is still a good idea to store several samples. For each pregnancy that you desire, you should bank between three and six specimens, depending on their semen quality.
What would happen to stored samples after my death?
Whenever a man banks sperm, we advise him to obtain a court order that would authorize a spouse or family member to withdraw any samples remaining in storage in our sperm bank after his death. Some deceased men’s wives or fiancées have wanted to use stored sperm to create offspring with fertility treatment. Parents have sometimes wished to create a grandchild with stored sperm, using a friend or a paid surrogate mother to carry the pregnancy. You may wish to have your samples destroyed in the event of your death, or you may wish to designate a specific person in the amendment to semen collection & storage agreement, giving the designated individual a legal right to make decisions about your samples in that situation. We will only release your samples to another sperm bank. Any further use of them would then be under the control of the person you had legally appointed.
How would I withdraw my sample?
When you are ready to use stored sperm for infertility treatment, you must notify our laboratory at least four weeks in advance. You or your legally appointed executor must also complete a release form. Specimens can be shipped to any physician or laboratory that can store them in liquid nitrogen until thawing is required. Cleveland Clinic will arrange shipping, but you are responsible for a withdrawal fee for each sample, as well as any shipping costs.
How long can sperm be safely stored?
Samples of semen do not deteriorate even over many years of deep freezing. Banking sperm before cancer treatment may allow a teenager or young adult to become a father years later, when he is ready to start a family. For a man who is about to have a vasectomy, therapeutic sperm banking provides an option to father a child if his life circumstances change.
When should therapeutic sperm banking be started?
The option to bank sperm should be discussed as early as possible after a diagnosis of cancer, because it is best to collect semen before treatment begins. Usually, it is considered safe to collect sperm samples during the first week of chemotherapy or radiation treatments. Although chemotherapy and radiation can damage the genetic material in developing sperm, the mature sperm found in a man’s semen are resistant to damage.
Will banking sperm delay my medical treatment?
Fortunately, storing semen samples does not have to delay the start of medical treatment. It is best to collect a specimen after 48 hours of abstinence from sexual activity. Although sperm constantly are being produced in the testes, it takes some time to replenish the sperm level after each ejaculation. To allow recovery of maximum semen volume, the second sample should be collected after another 48 hours of abstinence. If scheduling of a medical treatment does not allow that much time, waiting 24 hours between collections is usually enough. Men are advised to store several samples, but preserving even one may be worthwhile.
What influences sperm quality?
Semen quality is measured in several ways: by the sperm count (the number of sperm cells present in one milliliter of seminal fluid), the sperm motility (the activity of the sperm cells), and the morphology (the percentage of the sperm cells that have a normal shape). Semen quality can be damaged temporarily or permanently. Men who recently have been diagnosed with cancer often have poorer semen quality than usual. Some of the problem may be related to the illness itself and some to recent medical procedures, such as biopsies or surgeries that involve general anesthesia. A high fever or recent exposure to toxic chemicals may affect semen quality, as can chemotherapy for cancer or radiation therapy aimed near the testes. A man’s age has only minor influence on semen quality, but being a heavy smoker or abusing alcohol sometimes can interfere.
Semen quality also varies with each ejaculated specimen. If you have poor semen quality, the laboratory director will discuss the issue with you before your specimens are stored permanently.
Is it worth banking semen if the quality is not optimal?
With modern infertility treatments, it makes sense to bank sperm even if you have a low sperm count or motility. New techniques of in vitro fertilization often can achieve pregnancy by injecting just one live sperm cell into an egg. The embryos that develop can be transferred into the woman’s uterus. Men with better semen quality may be able to use their samples to create a pregnancy by simple insemination of their partner, a much less expensive and involved procedure than going through in vitro fertilization.
The Andrology Laboratory and Reproductive Tissue Bank at Cleveland Clinic’s Glickman Urological & Kidney Institute provides specialized tests and services to evaluate male infertility and help couples who are attempting to conceive. Our laboratory offers referring physicians quantifiable results using the latest, most sophisticated technology available.
To learn more about the Andrology Laboratory and Reproductive Tissue Bank's testing procedures and services, download our information guide.
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