Recent medical studies have explored the idea that men should be encouraged to bank sperm before their 35th or, at least, their 45th birthday.
The studies in question revealed that there are increased genetic abnormalities with ageing sperm, which can lead to less success from IVF, miscarriages and birth defects. Low testosterone in older men can lead to decrease in sperm quality and can take longer time to get pregnancy.
Studies looking at over 700,000 births showed increased risk of pre-eclampsia and gestational diabetes during pregnancy in women with older partner. Children born to older fathers are found to have lower birth weight, premature births and increased risk of stillbirth.
Studies have also shown increased risk of autism, psychotic disorders and schizophrenia in children born from older fathers. In addition, some studies have shown association of childhood cancers like leukaemia, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in children born to older fathers.
However, it is not clear at what age of men these effects manifest.
When sperm freezing is considered?
Freezing sperm is widely used for:
- Men undergoing cancer treatment
- Men in armed forces
- Those undergoing gender transition to female
Also, men undergoing IVF treatment sometimes need to freeze their sperm if their count is very low or they are unavailable due to work purpose. However, this has not been so far considered for men wanting to delay pregnancy.
What does sperm freezing involve?
Before freezing sperm, men would be asked to do virology screen (HIV, Hepatitis B and C) to ensure that affected sperm are stored appropriately without contaminating other samples. Once the semen sample is provided it is then checked for count, motility and normal forms and then stored in containers called straws.
Is sperm freezing safe?
This is quite safe procedure as IVF with frozen sperm is as successful as IVF with fresh sperm. However, not all sperm will survive the defrosting process. There is no risk to children in using frozen sperm for the treatment.
How long can the sperm be stored?
The standard period of freezing is 10 years. That means if it is not used in 10 years, it will be discarded. This is different for some cancer patients, when it can be stored longer, up to 55 years.
What is the cost of freezing sperm?
The cost of sperm freezing differs between different clinics, varying between £200 – 425. In addition to this there will be annual storage fee.
What is my opinion regarding sperm freezing to bank sperm before 35th or, 45th birthday?
Undoubtedly age will impair the quality of sperm. However, by far, most men over the age of 35 years will still be fertile. While it might take longer time to conceive, but most elderly men will achieve pregnancy naturally if their female partner is young. So even if they freeze sperm before the age of 35 years, in most circumstances they will not need to undergo fertility treatment and use those sperms.
The solution is not in freezing sperm. What is needed is awareness.
Men need to be more aware of their ticking biological clock and effect of their age on the pregnancy of their partner and their child and try to complete their family before the age of 45 years.
- Awareness among women while choosing their partners.
- Awareness among the medical professionals about the effect of advanced paternal age on fertility and include that in the consultation.
- Awareness among Obstetricians, so that they are more vigilant while looking after pregnancies of older male partners.
Dr Anupa Nandi MD, MRCOG, DFFP, MD, MBBS
Consultant Gynaecologist & SubSpecialist in Reproductive Medicine
Lister Fertility Clinic
HCA Healthcare UK
Chelsea Bridge Road, London, SW1W 8RH