Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Are IVF drugs harmful ?

Are IVF drugs harmful ?: "Another fertility pioneer, Robert Winston, the peer, said: 'The trend is to get as many eggs as possible, but that may be counterproductive. From the research we've done, the main risk is that doing this produces chromosomal damage in at least half, if not 70 per cent, of eggs. New studies are needed to prove the drugs are causing the damage, but it is my strong suspicion that this is the case.'"

There's been a lot of publicity recently about the potential harm which the drugs used for superovulation in IVF may cause. This is very unfortunate, because these statements do a dis-service to patients - and their doctors.

These are "scare-mongering techniques" which provide useful sound-bites for the media; and a 10-second claim to fame for the doctor who makes them. However, they are unproven and unscientific and need to be disputed, so patients can make well-informed decisions.

Unfortunately, hormones have a bad reputation in any case, so they are easy to bad-mouth. But this does not mean that it's responsible to make such ridiculous statements. These are natural hormones, which are normally found in the body, where they serve the purpose of maturing the eggs in the ovaries. They have been in clinical use for over 30 years now, which means they have an excellent safety track record. In IVF, all we do is administer these hormones to save the eggs which would otherwise have died. These hormones cannot produce or grow new eggs, so how they can possibly "cause chromosomal damage" ?

Yes, it's true that over 50% of embryos are chromosomally abnormal. This is well known - and is true in a natural cycle as well, when no hormones have been administered. This high chromosomal damage in the eggs is not because of the drugs, but is a pre-existing condition. Nature is notoriously inefficient at producing babies - and one of the reasons every fertile woman does not get pregnant every month she has sex is because so many of her eggs are chromosomally abnormal.

Unfortunately, thanks to the burning desire for many doctors to hog media attention, and the media's desire for sensational news, irresponsible statements like these will continue to feature on the front page of many newspapers and magazines. This is just going to increase the workload of responsible IVF doctors, who will have to allay the apprehensions of their worried patients.

What's even more worrisome is that these sort of stories will scare infertile couples away from IVF, thus depriving them of a safe and effective solution to a distressing problem. They will continue throwing away money on unproven and untested "safe and natural" remedies - while their biological clock ticks on inexorably.

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