How do men get a fertility test?
After treatment you might want to have tests to see if it has had any effect on your fertility.
You can ask your cancer doctor or GP to send you for semen analysis at a local laboratory. This checks whether you’re producing sperm, and if so, how many and how active they are. The doctor would then usually refer you to an NHS fertility specialist to discuss the results. These tests are free.
If you’ve stored your sperm in a sperm bank, you can ask them to do a semen analysis. You can also ask a private fertility centre to do this. The sperm bank or private fertility centre may charge you for the test.
What does the test involve?
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To have your semen examined, you have to produce a sample by masturbating (‘wanking’) into a small container. You may be allowed to produce the sample at home and take it into the laboratory within an hour of it being produced. However, it’s more common to be asked to produce a sample in a private room close to the laboratory. The advantage of this is that the sample can be analysed quickly and is more accurate.
How accurate is the test?
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No laboratory test is 100% accurate. However, the semen analysis test should be able to tell whether your testicles are producing sperm. If sperm are being produced, the test also checks how many there are and how healthy they are. Looking at how well the sperm move and their size and shape can give doctors an idea of how likely you are to be able to make a woman pregnant. This can let them know whether you’re likely to need specialist fertility treatment (called assisted conception treatment).
If the test shows normal sperm production
If the semen analysis shows that your testicles are producing sperm at normal levels, you’ll need to use contraception if you’re not planning to be a father at that time.
You may find it useful to have the test repeated every year to make sure the situation hasn’t changed. If you have normal test results over several years, you may like to think about whether any frozen samples you have in storage are really needed. Your doctor may discuss this with you and you can also talk it over with the counsellor in the clinic, but there should be no pressure to get rid of the samples if you want to keep them.
If the test shows below-normal sperm production
If the result shows that sperm production is below normal levels, there’s still a possibility that you can become a father. So it’s important to use contraception if you don’t want to become a father at that time.
You’ll be advised to wait at least three months before having another test to see whether the situation has improved. The sperm counts of healthy, fertile men can vary widely, so the sperm count may be higher at the next test.
If the test shows no sperm production
If no sperm are seen in the sample, it might be useful to have the test repeated. If you’re not actively trying to become a father, it might be reasonable to have a test every year.
If you want to become a father, you may decide to have the test done more often. However, because it can take up to three months for the testicles to make sperm, most doctors advise you to wait at least three months between tests.
Even if you’ve been told that you’re not producing any sperm and you aren’t planning to become a father, you should keep using contraception, as sperm production can start again at any time.
Your fertility doctor may ask you for a second sample. This is to check the result of the first test. The doctor may also ask you to have other tests (usually blood tests) if you want to try for a baby.