Fertility treatment for women
There are different kinds of fertility treatment. The type you’re advised to have will depend on the way that cancer or treatment has affected your fertility.
If you aren’t producing eggs
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If you’re not producing any eggs at all, you won’t be able to have a child unless you stored your embryos or eggs before your cancer treatment. You may, however, be able to use donated eggs or embryos.
Using frozen embryos
When the frozen embryos are needed, they’re thawed and placed in the womb (usually not more than one at a time) to see if they will implant and develop. Pregnancy rates using frozen embryos are generally lower than when using a fresh embryo but, even so, healthy babies have been born in this way.
Using frozen eggs
This is a newer, more experimental technique, which is much less successful than using frozen embryos. The eggs are frozen until needed. When they’re thawed later they may be fertilised by sperm (from either your partner or a donor). The success rates for having children with this procedure are very low.
Using frozen ovarian tissue
A new and experimental technique is to take and store samples of ovarian tissue that contain some eggs. The ovarian tissue can then be put back into the body at a later date. This technique is at a very early stage of development and hasn’t been widely used. If you’re suitable for this type of procedure you’ll probably have to travel to a specialist hospital for it.
Using donated eggs or embryos
If you don’t have any frozen embryos or eggs, the only fertility treatment available is to use eggs or embryos that have been donated by someone else.
People who donate eggs or embryos are carefully chosen. Their general health is checked and they’re offered counselling to make sure they understand exactly what it means to help infertile people in this way. Occasionally it might be possible to use known donors or surrogates - such as sisters or friends - but, as with all decisions about surrogacy or donated eggs or sperm, it requires careful thought and counselling for everyone involved.
If you decide to have fertility treatment using eggs or embryos from a donor, you will also be offered counselling and information about what it involves. There can often be a waiting list for this treatment.
Using donated eggs
If your partner is fertile, you may be advised to have treatment using donated eggs. The donated eggs are fertilised with your partner’s sperm in the laboratory.
The embryos that are formed are then put into your womb. You’ll need to have treatment with hormones before the embryos are implanted, and during the pregnancy.
Since egg donors are usually young women with good fertility, the chances of a successful pregnancy with this treatment are relatively high.
Using donated embryos
If both you and your partner have a fertility problem, you may be advised to try for a pregnancy using donated embryos. The embryos are eggs that have been fertilised with sperm and then frozen. The embryos are thawed and put into your womb. You’ll need to take hormones before the embryos are implanted, and possibly during the pregnancy.
If you can’t have a pregnancy yourself
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Some women aren’t able to have a pregnancy because their womb has been removed by surgery. In this situation, surrogacy is an option. Surrogacy is where another woman, called the surrogate mother, becomes pregnant and gives birth. If you’re in a heterosexual relationship, the baby is formed by fertilising the surrogate mother’s egg with your partner’s sperm. If you’re in a lesbian relationship, the baby’s formed by fertilising your female partner’s egg with a donor’s sperm. In both situations, this means that your partner is the genetic parent. Fertilisation takes place using the same technique as donor insemination or IVF.
The surrogate mother is the legal mother of the baby, but you and your partner can apply to the courts to have full parental legal responsibilities transferred to you (providing you are married or in a civil partnership), so that you become the baby’s legal parents.
If you can’t have sexual intercourse
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Some people can’t have sexual intercourse because of physical changes caused by the cancer or its treatment. In this situation, it may still be possible for the doctors to take your eggs and use them in IVF or ICSI treatment. This can allow you to have your own biological children. Where this isn’t possible, you may like to think about using donated eggs or embryos or surrogacy.