Fertility - 5 ways to protect your fertility

Written by: 
Simon Crompton, medical writer & author

Sometimes it’s not the cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. that affects people’s lives most, it’s the treatments. Surgery, chemotherapyThe use of chemical substances to treat disease, particularly cancer. and radiotherapy can all make men, women and children temporarily, or permanently, infertile

Sperm banking

How does it work?

Sperm is collected before treatment, usually by the man masturbating. Samples are frozen to -196C and they can be thawed to fertilise eggs artificially until the patient is aged 55.

Are there any drawbacks?

About half of the sperm stored will be lost during the preservation process. Stored sperm does not always fertilise eggs successfully.

Where can I get it or find out more?

Nearly all fertility centres provide this service — there are dozens around the country.

What does it cost (if not NHS)?

The NHS normally provides this service free to men receiving treatment for cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body..

Testicular tissue banking

How does it work?

For boys affected who are too young to produce sperm, a technique has been developed to preserve future fertility by extracting and freezing tissue from the testicle. In theory, this can be reimplanted at a later date and develop into sperm-producing tissue.

Are there any drawbacks?

The procedure is experimental. Fertility experts have raised concerns that it may compromise sperm production more than treatments do, that reimplanting tissue may reintroduce cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. and that young boys will be unable to give consent to the procedure.

Where can I get it or find out more?

Though one or two fertility centres in the UK do preserve testicular tissue, it is not yet widely available. No UK centres currently reimplant the tissue.

What does it cost (if not NHS)?

About £300.

Embryo freezing

How does it work?

For women in a stable relationship, this is the most reliable option and works through IVFIn vitro fertilisation. Fertilisation of the female reproductive cell (ovum) outside the body, before implantation into the uterus (womb).. The ovaries are stimulated with hormones to produce eggs, which are collected and fertilised with the partner’s sperm. This process forms embryos, which are frozen — ready to be implanted into the woman’s womb at a later date.

Are there any drawbacks?

IVFIn vitro fertilisation. Fertilisation of the female reproductive cell (ovum) outside the body, before implantation into the uterus (womb). is not failsafe; the average success rate is about 30 per cent per cycle. The process takes several weeks, which may delay cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body. treatment.

Where can I get it or find out more?

You should be referred to a fertility centre.

What does it cost (if not NHS)?

The NHS should normally fund this. Privately, it would cost £4,000 to £8,000.

Egg freezing

How does it work?

For women who do not have a partner, eggs can be collected as for IVFIn vitro fertilisation. Fertilisation of the female reproductive cell (ovum) outside the body, before implantation into the uterus (womb). techniques (see above) and then frozen, ready to be fertilised artificially at a later date.

Are there any drawbacks?

Eggs are more liable to be damaged by freezing than embryos, and pregnancy success rates for IVFIn vitro fertilisation. Fertilisation of the female reproductive cell (ovum) outside the body, before implantation into the uterus (womb). using frozen eggs are low — perhaps 5 per cent per cycle. However, a new technique called egg vitrification is improving pregnancy success rates, bringing them up to 44 per cent, according to one recent study.

Where can I get it or find out more?

Egg vitrification is available in an increasing number of fertility centres. 

What does it cost (if not NHS)?

Whether the NHS will fund egg freezing, and which type, depends on local policy. Privately, conventional egg freezing costs between £2,500 and £3,000 per cycle, plus an annual storage charge. Vitrification may cost a bit more.

Ovarian tissue freezing

How does it work?

Pre-pubescent girls are not old enough to undergo hormoneA substance produced by a gland in one part of the body and carried by the blood to the organs or tissues where it has an effect. stimulation to collect eggs.

Women with some types of hormoneA substance produced by a gland in one part of the body and carried by the blood to the organs or tissues where it has an effect.-responsive cancers are also unsuitable for egg collection. So scientists have developed a means of removing tissue from the ovary with a laparoscopyKeyhole surgery that uses an instrument called a laparoscope to examine the abdominal organs. operation, cutting it into thin sections and preserving it by freezing. The theory is that this can be implanted at a later date and mature into egg-producing tissue.

Are there any drawbacks?

The technique is unproven. There are concerns that transferring the tissue risks reimporting cancerAbnormal, uncontrolled cell division resulting in a malignant tumour that may invade surrounding tissues or spread to distant parts of the body..

Where can I get it or find out more?

A handful of fertility centres in the UK are storing ovarian tissue, but only those in Hammersmith, London, and the University of Edinburgh are removing tissue, specifically to preserve it and restore fertility in the future. 

What does it cost (if not NHS)?

There is currently no charge, because all the women having the procedure are part of a research project.

(c) Simon Crompton   www.simoncrompton.com