IVF clinics should stop treating women over the age of 42 because success rates are so slim, a top fertility doctor has warned.
Professor Hans Evers said their chances of having a baby were just 5 per cent and accused centres of ‘not being fair’ on desperate couples.
By the time women reach 44, the success rate of IVF has halved again to just 2 per cent, he said.
Professor Evers, a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, accused private clinics of raising false hope and promoting expensive but ‘useless’ additional treatments including hormones and screening. Addressing the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists World Congress in South Africa, the consultant called for a universal IVF age cap of 42.
He said: ‘The chances get so small per cycle that you have to do a huge number of cycles to achieve that one baby. Women are offered so many useless therapies – you may call it cons – but it is not fair.’
In 2014, the latest available data, 2,631 British women aged over 42 had IVF, and all paid privately. This has increased sixfold since the early 1990s as rising numbers are postponing motherhood to pursue careers.
The NHS will not fund treatment for women over 42 but many private clinics extend the age limit up to 50.
FIRMS WHO STILL CLAIM THEY CAN HELP
Clincs across the UK offer IVF to women in their 40s, making bold claims about how they can help.
‘Can make your dream reality’
‘It’s not too late to have a baby – fertility over 40 is possible,’ says the Bridge Centre, in central London. It offers a range of additional treatments, saying: ‘The Bridge Centre can make your dream of becoming a parent a reality through its renowned IVF programme, its enhanced IVF with genetic testing or through having IVF with donor eggs.’
’25 per cent success rate’
‘We are always very realistic with patients about their chances of success,’ claims Bourn Hall, which has clinics in East Anglia. ‘Although IVF success rates for women aged 38 to 43 are still good, with a 20 to 25 per cent chance of pregnancy, this is half that of a woman under 35. We therefore offer different types of advice and therapy for women in their late 30s early 40s.’
‘Treat women as individuals’
While experts say success rates for those over 42 is below 5 per cent, the Bath Fertility Centre says it ‘would quote 5 to 10 per cent’, claiming ‘you have to treat women as individuals’. However, this clinic does ‘advise caution’ for women over 43 and does not treat those over 44.
Several actively target women in their forties on their websites and say the chances of success are still ‘good’. One, Bourn Hall, which runs clinics in East Anglia, claims women aged 43 still have up to a 25 per cent chance of falling pregnant.
The Bridge Centre in London states: ‘There are a number of ways we can help with IVF over 40 and help women have a successful pregnancy’.
A typical course of IVF costs £4,000 but additional tests, procedures and drugs that supposedly boost success rates can double the price.
These include screening embryos to select the best one to put in the womb and a technique called ‘assisted hatching’, which is meant to help it implant. But Professor Evers, who is also editor of the Human Reproduction journal, described these techniques as ‘nonsense’.
‘They don’t help,’ he said. ‘But infertile women are desperate. They will do anything to get a baby. It is not fair.’
In the Netherlands, women are only offered IVF up to 42.
Professor Evers said the only practical option for women over 42 was to use donor eggs from someone in their 20s or 30s.
This would increase success rates to between 20 and 30 per cent. But many women are reluctant to do this as they will not be biologically related to their child, and British law states babies born from donor eggs can find out the identity of their biological mother once they are 16.
A woman’s fertility starts to decline from the age of 35. Dr Virginia Beckett, of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said as women age there is also ‘an increased risk of pregnancy complications including miscarriage, stillbirth, high blood pressure, premature birth and a low birth weight’.
But a charity has defended clinics, saying every woman is different and conception can still be possible over the age of 42
She added that the live birth rate for women under 35 having IVF was 31 per cent, compared to less than 5 per cent for those over 42.
But Susan Seenan, of the charity Fertility Network UK, warned against an age cap of 42.
She acknowledged the chance of becoming a mother at that age was ‘vanishingly small’ but said ‘everyone is different’ and that ‘a blanket ban on treating women over 42 would disregard an individual’s personal medical circumstances’.