IVF add-ons deemed ineffective

New research reveals that expensive IVF add-ons do not necessarily increase the chance of having a baby

Research commissioned by the BBC’s Panorama programme, and conducted by Oxford University’s Centre for Evidence Based Medicine, has found a lack of sufficient evidence regarding the effectiveness of IVF add-ons. Many fertility clinics offer these ‘add-ons’, treatments on top of a standard IVF cycle, in an attempt to boost the chance of having a baby.

The Oxford team spent a year researching more than 70 different websites, identifying 27 treatments considered to be add-ons. Further research found that all but one of the procedures were not backed up by good scientific evidence of success. Such treatments include genetic screening tests, additional drugs and blood tests to measure the immune system. These can add an additional £3,500 to IVF costs.

Professor Carl Heneghan, director of the university centre and leader of the research team, told Panorama; “It was one of the worst examples I’ve ever seen in healthcare.The first thing you would expect to happen is that anything that makes a claim for an intervention would be backed up by some evidence. Some of these treatments are of no benefit to you whatsoever and some of them are harmful.”

The only add-on with moderate quality evidence of success was the endometrial scratch; the procedure scratches the womb lining, helping an embryo to successfully implant. More alarmingly, it was found that when marketing one particular add-on, not all clinics were being completely honest with its patients. The treatment in question, preimplantation genetic screening, screens embryos for abnormalities to stop them developing further. However, a trial in 2007 discovered that an earlier version of this test could actually reduce the chances of having a baby.

Fertility pioneer Professor Robert Winston told Panorama he believes most IVF add-ons are unnecessary. “So many of them are not justified,” he said. “They think they’re giving the patient hope and in my view that’s completely the wrong way to do this, you need to give the patient a treatment which is reliable.”

Watch the Panorama documentary on BBC iPlayer now.