Making sense of what’s in the news
By Kate Brian, journalist, writer and author of four books on motherhood and fertility
Nowadays, there is a steady stream of news stories about fertility in the media, often highlighting new techniques or research and claiming the potential to increase the chances of pregnancy. As a fertility patient, it can be hard not to get excited by a newspaper headline which suggests a new treatment may make it easier for you to have your longed-for baby, but things are not always quite as they may seem.
Research and your fertility
Many of the projects reported in the media are still at the very early stages of research, and techniques may only have been tried out on a handful of patients – or even a handful of mice! This isn’t always entirely clear in the reporting, although there is sometimes a reference at the end of the story to the fact that further research is needed before a technique will be widely available. This kind of treatment is not going to be offered at a fertility clinic near you in the near future because there is not yet the evidence to say that it is safe and reliable – or that it really works properly.
Is it relevant to you?
It’s also important to understand that not all new treatments are suitable for all patients. You may read that a particular technique or new method is going to increase success rates in fertility treatment, but what may not be clearly explained is that this is only relevant to a particular group of patients – so, it may be something that is going to help patients with polycystic ovary syndrome, for example, and may have little relevance to people with other fertility problems.
One key area which is rarely mentioned when you hear about new fertility research is the fact that it may not be so useful for women who don’t have a good supply of eggs in their ovaries (or ovarian reserve). This is often the case for older women as ovarian reserve declines with age. There aren’t yet treatments which can turn back the biological clock, so a new method which claims to hugely increase IVF success rates may not have the same impact on a woman’s chances of success if she has a low ovarian reserve.
Focusing on the positives
It is also worth bearing in mind that the researchers are often keen to promote their new techniques and will want to focus on the most positive elements when they are trying to interest journalists in writing about their work. So, one pregnant woman can become a “first success” from a new treatment, when in reality what we are hearing is that only one person has ever got pregnant using the treatment.
When you hear about new research in the news, it can be tempting to go marching into your clinic and demand to be offered it immediately – and then to feel let down if your clinician tells you it is not yet available at your clinic or not suitable for you. Fertility specialists are very aware of new developments in the field and always want to be able to offer their patients the latest treatments, but it is far more important for them to provide evidence-based medicine where research has shown that something is both safe and effective. Your consultant knows all about your individual situation and what would be best for you, and you should always be guided by the specialist team treating you rather than the headlines in the newspapers or on television when it comes to fertility treatments.
Writer and journalist
Kate Brian is a journalist, writer and author of four books on motherhood and fertility, including The Complete Guide to IVF. Kate started writing about the patient perspective on infertility after having IVF herself.
Currently, she contributes to various types of media as an expert on fertility and writes her own blog, where she gives all the latest news and views on fertility issues, as well as useful advice and links for anyone trying to have a baby.