FAQs about treatment

Treatment options and risks:


Surgical sperm extraction has not worked for me. Are there any other options?

If your doctors have been unable to extract any sperm, you will probably find the only option is to use donor sperm to fertilise your partner's eggs. Depending on a clinic's availability of donor sperm, it may be possible to use sperm from a donor who shares some of your physical characteristics. A clinic will only use donated sperm that has been screened for infections, such as hepatitis and HIV, which involves a quarantine period of around six months. 

The donated sperm can then be used to fertilise your partner's eggs through a process called intrauterine insemination (IUI) or by in vitro fertilisation (IVF).  The donor will be identifiable, which means any child born as a result will have the right to ask for information about their donor when they reach adulthood, including the donor's name. 

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What is the procedure for transferring sperm, eggs or embryos from abroad?

From within the EU

If you are considering obtaining sperm, eggs or embryos from within the within the EU, the clinic will organise for a transfer to be made from that country.

The donations will need to meet the following criteria:

  • The EU/EEA country from which the transfer is being made has implemented EU wide quality and standards known as the EU Tissues and Cells Directive (EUTCD).
  • The clinic from which the transfer is being made is licensed or accredited under the laws of that EU country.
  • The sperm, eggs or embryos transferred meet UK requirements on screening, as set out in HFEA licence conditions and the HFEA Code of Practice.
  • The donor of the sperm, eggs or embryos:
    • is identifiable,
    • has consented to the transfer of their sperm, eggs or embryos to the UK and
    • has been made aware of the legal position in the UK on identifying donors (including the implications for the donor).
  • The donor of the sperm, eggs or embryos must have only received reasonable expenses or reimbursement for loss of earnings. No inconvenience payments should have been made to the donor.

The UK clinic receiving the donation must make sure that the EU/EEA clinic providing the donation has met these criteria in order for the transfer to take place.

Outside the EU

If you are considering obtaining sperm, eggs or embryos from outside the EU, the clinic will need to apply to the HFEA for a Special Direction on your behalf to import from that country.

Clinics must demonstrate that the donation has met the following UK standards:

  • The sperm, eggs or embryos transferred meet UK requirements on screening, as set out in HFEA licence conditions and the HFEA Code of Practice.
  • The donor of the sperm, eggs or embryos:
    • is identifiable,
    • has consented to the transfer of their sperm, eggs or embryos to the UK and
    • has been made aware of the legal position in the UK on identifying donors (including the implications for the donor).
  • The donor of the sperm, eggs or embryos must have only received reasonable expenses or reimbursement for loss of earnings.
  • No inconvenience payments should have been made to the donor.

The application for a Special Direction will be considered by the HFEA Licence Committee, this could take between 3 - 6 weeks.

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Will my cancer treatment mean that I won't be able to have children?

Some cancer treatments can have an impact on future fertility, and it is worth discussing this with your doctor before your treatment begins.  Men can, for example, freeze their sperm and women can consider creating embryos with their partner (if they have one) or using donated sperm to create embryos which can be frozen and used later. 

Visit the Cancerbackup website for more information about maintaining your fertility.

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What should I do with unused medicines?

If you have drugs left over from your fertility treatment, you should return them to your clinic or to a pharmacy for proper disposal.

You cannot offer your drugs, either for sale or free, to another patient. The Medicines Act 1968 contains strict provisions about medicines and who can sell them. For more information about the laws governing the supply of medicines see NHS Direct.

 The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) is the government agency responsible for ensuring that medicines and medical devices work, and are acceptably safe. For further information about the disposal of unwanted medicines see the MHRA website.

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My clinic has prescribed medicine for my treatment. Is there any restriction about where I can get the medicines from?

There are strict laws about medicines and who can sell them. For more information about the laws governing the supply of medicines see NHS Direct. For details of registered pharmacists see the Royal Pharmaceutical Society.

The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has highlighted concerns about some websites that sell medicines. See the MHRA website for further information.

A doctor cannot tell you which pharmacist to use. The General Medical Council (GMC) has issued guidance to doctors on prescribing medicines called "Good Practice in Prescribing Medicines (2006)". In the section entitled "Doctors' interests in pharmacies" the guidance states that "Patients should be free to choose from which pharmacy to have their prescribed medicines dispensed" and "You must not pressurise patients to use a particular pharmacy in any event, either personally or through an agent". To find out more about this guidance, see the GMC website.

If you are unhappy with the way your clinic is prescribing medicines for you, you should in the first instance complain to the clinic.  If your complaint about prescribing is not resolved, then you should seek further advice from the Quality Care Commission or the General Medical Council.

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Can I use fresh sperm from internet websites? Is it safe?

Following the implementation of the EUTCD in July 2007 the procurement, testing, processing or distribution of any embryo or sperm and eggs intended for human use must be licensed by the HFEA or be subject to an agreement with an HFEA licensed centre.

Internet sperm providers must therefore be licensed by the HFEA or have a third party agreement with a licensed centre to ensure standards of quality and safety of the sperm. If they are not licensed, or do not have a valid third party agreement, then they would be committing a criminal offence and the safety of the sperm may not be guaranteed.

Men giving out their sperm in any other way - such as via internet services or private arrangements with people they know – may legally be the father of any children born with all the responsibilities that carries.

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Using donor eggs or sperm:


I've used donated eggs/sperm in my IVF treatment. How do I find out more about the donor?

If you have had treatment using donated sperm or eggs in a UK clinic, the HFEA will hold information about the donor on the HFEA Register.  The amount of information available will depend on when your treatment took place. 

For more information see What information you can find out about your child's donor.

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I may have to use donated eggs or sperm in my treatment - what are the rules about this?

If your clinic recommends using donated eggs or sperm, it is usually because they consider that treatment would be unlikely to be successful if you were to use your own eggs or sperm.  Before going down this route, there are some complex issues you may want to consider and talk through with an experienced counsellor.  One key issue is how you will tell your children about their conception. Evidence shows that it is in the best interests of donor-conceived to learn about their donor-conceived origins early in life.

For more information, see Using donated eggs, sperm or embryos in your treatment.

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I am using donor sperm in my treatment. Whose name goes on the birth certificate as the baby's father?

If you are being treated together with your husband or partner at a HFEA licensed clinic, his name will go on the birth certificate, provided that he has consented to the treatment. 

However, in April 2009, new laws on legal parenthood are being introduced. How the change in the law around parenthood affects you as a patient will depend on your circumstances, but it will primarily affect couples receiving treatment with donor sperm or embryos created with donor sperm.

Find out more about the new law on legal parenthood.

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I hear there's a shortage of sperm donors in the UK. Can I buy sperm from abroad?

Some clinics are currently finding it difficult to find sperm from UK donors to treat their patients. Waiting lists for donor sperm can be long and some clinics may suggest that you buy sperm from an overseas sperm bank to use instead.  There are various issues you should consider before going ahead. 

For more information, see Importing donated sperm, eggs or embryos.

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Can I use fresh sperm from internet websites? Is it legal? Is it safe?

The law states that no-one can 'procure, test, process or distribute' eggs or sperm to be used for human application without their activities being covered by a licence from the HFEA. This includes organisations controlling the supply or transport of sperm or eggs.

For people using unlicensed services, there are also serious implications regarding who is legally the father of any child conceived. The law says that men donating sperm through HFEA licensed fertility clinics are not the legal father of any child born through that donation. This includes cases where the donor is known to the recipient.

Men giving out their sperm in any other way - such as via internet services or private arrangements with people they know – may legally be the father of any children born with all the responsibilities that carries.

The HFEA recommend that people seeking to donate sperm or to be treated using donated sperm do so only through the UK's licensed clinics. This includes cases where the donor is known to the recipient. People using licensed clinics can be sure that any donor sperm or eggs used in their treatment has been subject to rigorous quality checks, including screening to ensure that the material has not been infected with diseases such as Chlamydia or HIV. Patients using unlicensed services do so at their own risk.

We have been in discussion with internet sperm companies, and their predecessors since 2006 to warn them that they would need to have a licence from the HFEA if they were to continue to operate after 5 July 2007. None of these companies has completed applications to the HFEA in an attempt to get a licence.

Since 5 July we have written to UK internet sperm companies stressing to them that distributing or procuring eggs or sperm without a licence from the HFEA is a criminal offence.

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I’ve seen press reports saying that only anonymous sperm donors are exempt from being treated as the legal father - is this true?

No - if you donate sperm at a HFEA licensed clinic, even where you are known to the recipient, you cannot be treated as the legal father of any children born as a result of that donation.

The same law about fatherhood applies to all donors using HFEA licensed clinics, whether they registered before or after donor anonymity was lifted on 1st April 2005.  For more information, see Donors and anonymity.

Men donating their sperm in any other way - such as via internet services or through private arrangements with people they know - may legally be the father of any children born with all the responsibilities that carries.

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Who is the legal father of a child born using unlicensed services?

The law says that men donating sperm through licensed fertility clinics are not the legal father of any child born through that donation. This includes cases where the donor is known to the recipient.

Men donating their sperm in any other way - such as via internet services or through private arrangements with people they know - may legally be the father of any children born with all the responsibilities that carries.

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I know someone who is willing to donate sperm through a private arrangement with me (and/or my partner). Who would be the legal father?

The HFEA recommend that people seeking to donate sperm or to be treated using donated sperm do so only through the HFEA’s licensed clinics. This includes cases where the donor is known to the recipient.

For people using unlicensed services or private arrangements, there are also serious implications regarding who is legally the father of any child conceived. The law says that men donating sperm through HFEA licensed fertility clinics are not the legal father of any child born through that donation. This includes cases where the donor is known to the recipient.

Men giving out their sperm in any other way - such as via internet services or private arrangements with people they know - may legally be the father of any children born with all the responsibilities that carries.

People using licensed clinics can be sure that any donor sperm or eggs used in their treatment has been subject to rigorous quality checks, including screening to ensure that the material has not been infected with diseases such as Chlamydia or HIV. Patients using unlicensed services do so at their own risk. 

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Storing sperm, eggs and embryos:


I'd like to freeze my embryos for future use. What's involved?

During IVF treatment, fertility drugs are used to stimulate the ovaries to produce more eggs than usual. These are then fertilised with your partner's, or a donor's, sperm to create embryos. 

Because you can only have two or three embryos transferred to your womb each time, some people choose to freeze 'extra' embryos to use in later treatment cycles.  Read more in Freezing and storing embryos.

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Where can I have sperm stored for future use?

You will need to find a clinic with sperm storage facilities. 

Use the advanced search in find a clinic search and highlight "storage of sperm".

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I've heard that women can freeze their eggs to use later. How do I go about doing this?

Egg freezing is still a very new technique and to date only a handful of babies have been born in the UK using frozen eggs (compared with thousands born from frozen embryos).  Egg freezing tends to be offered primarily to single women who are having cancer treatment that will leave them infertile, and for whom egg freezing is their only option. 

If you are considering storing your eggs with the intention of using them later to have a child, you should discuss this in the first instance with your GP. See also Freezing and storing eggs

To find out which fertility clinics offer egg storage download our clinics at a glance guide (PDF).  Costs will vary from clinic to clinic, so if you decide to go ahead with this option, we would recommend speaking to several clinics before making a decision.
 
No assisted reproductive technique (such as IVF) is 100% successful and this should be borne in mind when planning when and how to start a family.

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Facts and figures:


How likely am I to get pregnant after IVF treatment?

Every woman is different; your chances of becoming pregnant will depend on a number of factors, such as your age and the cause (if known) for why you are not conceiving naturally. The average success rates for women who have IVF treatment using their own  fresh eggs for the year 2006:

  • 31% for women under 35
  • 26.4% for women aged 35-37
  • 18.6% for women aged 38-39
  • 11.1% for women aged 40-42
  • 4.6 % for women aged 43-44
  • 4.0% for women aged 44+

To read more about the latest success rates, take a look at our latest Facts and Figures.

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How many people have fertility treatment in the UK?

The most recent figures (2006) show that 34,855 women underwent IVF treatment in the UK. 2,106 women had donor insemination treatment. There were 12,596 babies born from IVF treatment in this period and 489 babies born from donor insemination treatment.

Take a look at our latest Facts and Figures.

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When is the HFEA going to provide more recent success rates for clinics?

The most recent live birth rates currently available are for the year 2006.  This may seem like a long time ago - but don't forget that we have to wait for nine months after a treatment is carried out to know what the outcome is!  Then all the information has to be checked and double-checked with clinics across the UK to make sure there are no mistakes.  As you can imagine, all this takes quite a long time, but it's vital so that we can provide you with reliable information. 

To read more about the latest success rates, take a look at our latest Facts and Figures.

Or find out more about how to choose a clinicunderstanding success rates and what to ask your clinic.

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Treatment given alongside IVF:


What is reproductive immunology?

There has been much debate about the role of a natural part of the immune system in pregnancy, including some cells, known as 'NK cells', or 'natural killer cells' that help the body fight disease.

Some medical professionals believe that a woman's immune system can occasionally react against sperm, preventing fertilisation, or against an embryo, which either stops the embryo from implanting, or rejects the embryo early on in pregnancy, resulting in a miscarriage.

For more information, see Reproductive immunology.

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What's the HFEA's view on reproductive immunology (IVIG) treatment?

Reproductive Immunology is a new and unproven technique.  It's not something that requires an HFEA licence, but we would encourage anyone considering this option to find out more about it and why the clinic thinks it would be helpful in your particular case.   

Ultimately, it is your choice whether to go ahead with this treatment, and you must feel comfortable that you understand what it involves, both physically and in terms of financial cost.

If you are concerned about treatment that you have had in the past, you should speak to your GP or the clinic where you had this treatment to discuss your concerns. There is no conclusive evidence to show that these treatments are either beneficial or ineffective.

For more information, see Reproductive immunology.

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How will my reproductive immunology treatment affect me and my child(ren)?

If you are concerned about treatment you have had in the past, you should speak to your GP or the clinic where you had this treatment to discuss your concerns. If you are pregnant you should discuss any worries with your obstetrician.

For more information, see Reproductive immunology.

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PGD and sex selection:


Can I choose the sex of my child?

Several HFEA-licensed clinics can carry out tests on embryos to detect certain inherited disorders, including some that could affect children of a particular sex. 

These tests are only allowed for medical reasons. No HFEA-licensed clinic can offer you embryo screening for non-medical reasons. 

Read more about sex selection.

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What is PGD and who can have it?

Preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) is a technique that enables individuals with a specific inherited condition in their family to avoid passing on this condition to their children.

In PGD one or two cells are removed from an embryo at the eight-cell stage and tested for the presence of a specific faulty gene.  Only the embryos which are free from the condition will then be transferred. PGD is used to test for conditions such as cystic fibrosis and haemophilia.

Read more about PGD.

Download a document listing most of the conditions that have been licensed for PGD:

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Page last updated: 09 July 2012

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