For many thousands of women, in vitro fertilization (IVF) provides the only realistic hope of pregnancy. Recently, concerns have been raised about the number of older women who do not appear to understand that IVF cannot reverse the effects of aging. Some older women may view IVF as a way to put off pregnancy while they build careers or become more settled and able to provide for a family.
Rob Stein's recent report in the Washingtonpost.com, highlights a situation where approximately 10 percent of IVF cycles in one particular area, are performed on women over the age of 40. Women around this age may see themselves as good candidates for IVF, especially if they feel young, fit and healthy. In biological terms however, their peak time for pregnancy passed many years earlier. The most that IVF treatment can do is to restore the same chances of fertility for a woman of that age. It cannot reverse the effects of aging.
IVF costs around $12,000 per attempt. Following several weeks of hormone injections, the eggs are removed and fertilized in laboratory conditions. If successful, the eggs are replaced in the womb, in the hope that one may go on to develop full term. It is not uncommon for the process to require several cycles.
The success of IVF declines sharply with age. However, the effect of aging on an older woman's ovaries and eggs is something that is not always understood by many women. Alan S. Penzias of Harvard Medical School, recently led a study into the effect of aging and IVF. "One of the sad states of affairs is that there are many women who are not aware that there is an effect of aging," Penzias says. Mark A. Rothstein, a bioethicist at the University of Louisville, states, "People have been given a rosy picture of the ability of fertility science and medicine to do almost anything ...part of it may be overselling by the clinics. Part of it may be denial and wishful thinking."
There are calls for more consumer-friendly data to be made available so that women can be better informed. Effectively, older women need to lower their expectations. With better information, Penzias feels women could then plan ahead properly, rather than find out when it's too late.