Does IVF work?

There has been a lot of discussion in the last week or so about how successful IVF really is after the Chair of the HFEA Professor Lisa Jardine talked about the “discouragingly low” success rates in an industry which “trades in hope”, pointing out that for each cycle of IVF, fewer than a third of women over the age of 35 would emerge with a baby.  In the wider discussion of the issue, it has since been repeated that IVF is only successful for this relatively small percentage of women with none of the necessary caveats.

In reality, most women who have a baby after IVF don’t get pregnant after their first cycle.  The reason the NICE fertility guideline recommends three cycles of treatment is because that has been shown to be clinically effective. Cumulative success rates for IVF are often hard to come by, but a recent study at Bourn Hall Clinic in Cambridge has shown a success rate of more than 70% over three cycles of treatment  – and cumulative success rates are key if you are considering IVF success.

The chances of getting pregnant with IVF depend very much on who is having the treatment. The likelihood of a positive outcome may be high for a woman of 28, but a 43 year old having fertility treatment is far less likely to succeed – and this is the balance that needs to be taken into account when considering IVF success rates as they are so dependent on the patient.

Of course, Professor Jardine is right that we need to think more about what happens when IVF doesn’t work and whether we are preparing people for this possibility – but we also need to acknowledge that one of the main problems we see today is women who are still assuming that IVF will be able to help if they leave it until their late thirties or early forties to start trying to have a child.

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