Anyone going through fertility treatment wants to maximise their chances of success, and you may have heard that opting for ICSI will mean you are more likely to end up with a baby whatever the nature of your fertility problems. In fact, ICSI is a treatment for male fertility problems which is also used when IVF hasn’t worked in the past because eggs haven’t fertilised. When it is used in these circumstances, it can increase the chances of success. There is, however, no benefit from using ICSI for those who don’t actually need it.
I’ve just been reading a really interesting paper on this in the journal Human Fertility which looked how fertility clinics in the UK approach ICSI and found wide discrepancies with some clinics using it for around 20% of their IVF cycles and others using it in more than 80% of IVF cycles. The criteria they used to decide when to use ICSI also varied, with many offering it for sperm that would be considered perfectly normal and letting patients to choose whether they wanted IVF or ICSI regardless of the nature of their fertility problems.
You may feel that it’s up to you to have that choice, but patients aren’t always presented with clear evidence about what ICSI can and cannot do. Research shows that using ICSI when you have normal sperm doesn’t increase success rates, and in fact there is even some suggestion that it could lead to a reduced chance of success. ICSI is more expensive and there have been questions raised about the potential risks of the technique.
For men with fertility problems, ICSI has been a hugely important development allowing many couples to have the children they long for – but it’s not something that should be undertaken as some kind of optional add-on, If you don’t need ICSI, why pay more money for something which could carry more risk and which will not increase your chances of a successful outcome? It’s time fertility clinics started spelling this out more clearly to their patients…