Fertility treatment for men
There are different kinds of fertility treatments available for men.
If your sperm count is lowBack to top
If you’ve had cancer treatment and are still producing sperm, but only in very low numbers, there may still be a chance of making your partner pregnant naturally. However, if you’ve been advised to have fertility treatment, you may be offered in vitro fertilisation (IVF) on its own or with intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI). These are sometimes called ‘test tube baby’ treatments, although the baby isn’t actually made in
a test tube.
In vitro fertilisation (IVF)
Your partner is given a course of drugs to make her ovaries produce more mature eggs than normal. A small operation is then done to collect the eggs. A sedative is given to relax her, and a fine needle is put through the top of her vagina and into an ovary. The eggs can be collected through the needle.
The eggs are then fertilised in the laboratory by mixing them with your sperm.
Usually, only one or two of the resulting embryos is then placed in your partner’s womb a few days later, in the hope that this will lead to a pregnancy. A pregnancy test can be done about 12 days later. If your partner is pregnant, this can usually be seen on an ultrasound scan about three weeks after the pregnancy test.
Intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI)
In ICSI, the eggs are collected in the same way as for IVF, but they are fertilised by injecting a single sperm directly into each egg. ICSI is used when the sperm count is low. The rest of the process is the same as for IVF.
If you have sperm stored and they are healthier than the sperm you’re currently producing, your doctors may suggest that you use the stored sperm for IVF or ICSI instead.
If you aren’t producing spermBack to top
Sperm production is controlled by hormones in the brain and testicles.
If you’ve had treatment for a brain tumour and aren’t producing sperm, it may be possible to give you injections that will allow you to produce sperm naturally and in normal amounts.
However, if you’ve had cancer treatment to the testicles or pelvis and you’re not producing any sperm, you won’t be able to have your own biological child unless you stored some of your sperm before your treatment.
Using stored sperm
Frozen sperm can sometimes be used if:
- the sperm are healthy when they are thawed and there are lots of them
- there are no concerns about your partner’s fertility.
Using frozen sperm in this way is quite a simple process. Your partner will have blood tests and ultrasound scans to monitor her menstrual cycle and show when she is about to release an egg. When the egg is about to be released from the ovary, your stored sperm are thawed and placed around the neck of her womb, or directly into her womb. If this process is carefully timed, it has a good chance of success and is the closest option to becoming pregnant naturally. This process is called intrauterine insemination (IUI).
Using donated sperm
If you don’t have any frozen sperm, you would need to use sperm donated by someone else.
People who donate sperm 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 a donor that you know, such as a brother or friend. But this also requires careful thought and counselling for everyone involved.
If you decide to have fertility treatment using sperm 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.
If your partner is fertile, the treatment itself is usually quite simple. The process is described in the section on ‘Using stored sperm’. This type of fertility treatment has good success rates and is called donor insemination (DI).
If the treatment doesn’t result in pregnancy, your partner may be prescribed hormones to make her ovaries release more eggs. This process is called stimulated intrauterine insemination. The donated sperm are then put directly into your partner’s womb.
Treatments using donated sperm can also be carried out using in vitro fertilisation (IVF).
If you can’t have sexual intercourseBack to top
Rarely, physical changes caused by the cancer or its treatment mean that you might not be able to have sex. This can be very difficult to cope with.
We have more information about cancer and sex that you might find helpful.
It may still be possible for the doctors to take your sperm 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 want to think about using donated sperm or surrogacy.