IVF is the most widely used technique to assist with pregnancy, but what is the process?

1. Suppressing Your Normal Monthly Hormone Cycle - this is to ensure that your cycle doesn't interfere with the artificially induced cycle. A drug will be given to you for about 2 weeks usually starting around day 21 of your normal cycle. This puts your body in a menopausal state, you might experience some symptoms of the menopause: hot flushes, mood changes, and dryness of the skin.

2. Boosting The Number Of Eggs - medicine is used to encourage your ovaries to produce more than 1 mature egg at a time. A fertility hormone is taken every day for 10-12 days. This may be in the form of a tablet (often Clomid), but is more commonly a stronger hormone given by injection. The addition of any extra hormones can cause side effects, most commonly these include: flushing, breast tenderness, nausea or vomiting and abnormal uterine bleeding.

3. Checking Progress - an ultrasound is carried out to check the development of the eggs, and medicine is used to help them mature. The optimum size for the follicles to develop before harvesting is 16-20mm. Hyper Ovarian Stimulation Syndrome is a rare complication of IVF - too many eggs develop, causing the ovaries to become large and painful.

4. Preparing The Eggs For Collection - an injection of another hormone (human Chorionic Gonadotrophin, or hCG) is given as a once off.

5. Collecting The Eggs - a hollow needle attached to the probe will collect the eggs from the ovary. This can be uncomfortable so you will probable be given some sedation.

6. Fertilising The Eggs - the eggs will be mixed with your partner's or donor sperm and cultured in the lab for 16-20 hours.

7. Embryo Transfer - there is a restriction on the number of embryos that are transferred because of the risk of multiple births. 1 or 2 can be transferred if you are under 40, and up to 3 if you are over 40. A speculum will be interred into your vagina (like having a smear test). A small tube will then be passed through the cervix and into the uterus and the embryos passed down it.

Risks of having IVF

This is something that you should discuss with your Doctors, both those involved with your cancer and those at the fertility centre. As with any medications, you may get some side effects. Minor symptoms include: mild hot flushes, headaches, irritability and restlessness.

A dangerous over reaction to fertility drugs is called OHSS (ovarian hyper stimulation syndrome)

  • Multiple cysts in the ovary cause enlargement and a redistribution of the fluid in your body. Symptoms can include bloating, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting and usually begin a few days after your eggs have been harvested. OHSS can be very severe, even life-threatening, and it’s important you feel confident looking for any signs, this is something you should discuss with your fertility specialist.

Just as with ‘natural’ conception, miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy are risks to be aware of.

  • You are no more likely to miscarry after IVF, and you will have a scan a couple of weeks after a positive pregnancy test to see if the pregnancy is likely to miscarry.

  • An ectopic pregnancy happens when the embryo develops in the fallopian tube (the tube between ovary and uterus) instead of in the uterus. Signs to look out for include pain and bleeding from the vagina. If your doctor is worried about this then you will have a blood test and scan.

If you have more than one embryo transferred during IVF, you may develop a multiple pregnancy.

  • Multiple births are the biggest health risk associated with IVF so it’s essential you discuss this with your doctor when you are deciding how many embryos to have transferred.

For more information about fertility treatment and other techniques please visit Fertility Network