What you need to know about the processing of sperm samples. This is part one in a 3-part blog series about semen analysis, or “sperm counts”.
Did you know that semen analysis is not just used to count sperm? It also evaluates:
- Sperm production (quantity)
- Assesses how sperm are moving (quality)
- Examines secretions of the genital tract
A man’s fertility is never determined by a semen analysis alone. Additional factors must be reviewed and considered. From the standpoint of processing of semen samples: not all labs are the same. That is why in my fertility acupuncture practice, I have stopped sending my patients to larger, unspecialized laboratories, such as those in community hospitals or large corporate labs.
Semen samples are best processed in an “andrology” lab. These specialty labs are typically associated with Urology or Reproductive Endocrinology offices. This is important since semen analysis is a time-sensitive procedure that requires technical expertise to perform accurately.
Processing by an andrologist is better for multiple reasons. Firstly, an andrologist has advanced training and skills in assessing samples and extensive experience in proper handling. Secondly, dedicated andrology labs typically have state of the art equipment with more accurate counting chambers and more formal lab methods. In unspecialized lab settings, semen specimens frequently are assigned to the “lowest man on the totem pole”, or to the technician available at that moment. So your specimen may be processed by far less experienced individuals.
A study published in The Journal of Human Reproduction in 2000 showed marked variability in the same semen samples analyzed at different facilities.
Results for the same semen specimens ranged from a count of 3 million sperm/ml to 492 million sperm/ml. That is a huge problem.
Risks of inaccurate results can be:
- Significant emotional distress
- Costly changes in medical care or treatment
- Wastes of money and time
In other words: your semen analysis results from an unspecialized lab might tell you that Elvis is in the building but it won’t go into detail about how many cheeseburgers he’s eaten or how well his hips are swiveling. Campy analogy aside: I’m sure you understand my point. If you are going to the trouble of spending time and money on a sample, you want it to be accurate.
I strongly encourage men to schedule a complete medical history and examination by a urologist, along with an analysis.
Beyond the natural drive to father a child, each man needs to be evaluated for a disease processes that may cause an abnormal semen analysis and for mechanical issues or genetic pre-disposition, which might affect not only semen quality but even his health in the future.
Infertile men also can have statistically higher rates of testis and prostate cancer after the diagnosis of infertility is made. Unfortunately, the male infertility evaluation is often lacking in current conventional practice because the focus is on women. Granted: women do have more complex reproductive systems; but it is still wise to thoroughly evaluate guys as well.
Also important to know, a semen analysis alone is not sufficient to determine if male infertility is:
- Caused by an important health condition
- A risk factor for disease development later in life.