Tommy’s Professor Shennan on fertility clinics offering ‘add on’ treatments to desperate couples

Couples experiencing fertility problems are being offered extra treatments, most of which haven’t been fully evaluated. Tommy’s Professor Shennan says women must be given all the information so they can make an informed choice.

Tommy’s news and views, 12/05/2017

You might have seen the news this week that some couples struggling with fertility are being offered extra treatments that are actually putting them at risk of miscarriage, premature birth and health problems.

‘Add on’ treatments such as medication to ‘activate’ your eggs, glue to ‘stick’ embryos to the womb or egg yolk drips to suppress the immune system are being offered privately by some fertility clinics.

What risk is there with these fertility treatments?

A report from the Human Fertility and Embryology Authority (HFEA) said that some of these procedures could be putting patients at risk of kidney damage or other health problems such as septicaemia.

We spoke to Clinical Director of Tommy’s Preterm Surveillance Clinic Professor Andy Shennan who told us,

‘It is important to remember that most doctors want to do their best for the patient, and most women want the best chance of a healthy baby, but unfortunately we don’t always have the right solutions. There is a temptation to offer new treatments in difficult circumstances, without fully knowing the benefit, but more worryingly the harms. Doctors should explain the uncertainty around all treatments and allow women to make an informed choice. Very few treatments actually have been fully evaluated when it comes to supporting pregnancies after IVF and in women who have miscarriages and early preterm birth. Many have a potential down side as well. These include surgery, hormones and immune therapy.’

How can they cause miscarriage or premature birth?

Three of the kinds of drugs offered by these clinics can cause significant risk to the woman’s health with heightened chances of kidney failure, blood clots and premature birth.

HFEA also warns that ‘acritical egg activation’ could cause the embryo to have an abnormal number of chromosomes which would cause the pregnancy to miscarry.

How costly are these treatments?

Not only are many of these treatments not scientifically supported as beneficial, they can also be very expensive.

The Daily Mail reported that some of these treatments can cost up to £3,500.

The chairman of the HFEA, Sally Cheshire, is now questioning whether private clinics should be allowed to charge for these treatments.

She says that it is not right to bill ‘desperate’ parents for procedures without any scientific evidence behind them.

What should I do if offered these treatments?

Professor Shennan’s advice to any couples struggling with fertility who are being offered these treatments is;

‘It is OK to ask, and it is OK to get a second opinion. Just remember, if treatments aren't routinely offered on the NHS, they probably don't have a worthwhile benefit. NHS doctors are allowed to use anything beneficial; they rarely withhold treatments (if at all) because of cost in pregnancy.’

What other solutions are there to the problem of miscarriage?

We understand just how devastating the realities of infertility can be and why parents are willing to try anything that they are told might increase their chances of falling pregnant, especially if they have suffered previous losses.

This is why Tommy’s is funding research into preventing baby loss and premature birth. We are working to find the answers to help parents who are desperate to start a family have a wider choice of safe and scientifically supported options.  Additionally, our midwives are also on hand to support you at whatever stage of your journey; whether you have suffered a loss, going through IVF or are currently pregnant.  

Two examples of current research studies:

Professor Jan Brosen from our Coventry and Warwickshire Miscarriage Centre is currently working on a test which may be able to detect when the womb is ready for a baby in women who have previously miscarried.

If successful, this research could help us end the misery of miscarriage by identifying when the body is ready for a baby to be implanted.

You can read more about Professor Brosen’s incredible research into miscarriage here.

Professor Jackson Brown from Tommy’s Birmingham Miscarriage Research Centre is looking at the link between damaged sperm DNA and unexplained miscarriage.

Before now it has been assumed that miscarriage is caused by something malfunctioning in the mother.

Professor Brown’s research has found that damage to sperm DNA more than doubles the risk of miscarriage, showing the need to include the father in research if we’re to find the answers to end this heartbreak.

You can read more about the effect of sperm damage in miscarriage here.

Where can I find more information?

These research projects are just two of a number incredible studies being conducted at Tommy’s National Centre for Miscarriage Research. Here is the full list of our miscarriage research projects and with the trials that are currently looking for participants.

If you are currently trying for a baby and have struggled to get pregnant you can take a look at our pages on getting pregnant or top tips for conception here.

If you’ve suffered a loss and are struggling to decide when to start trying again you can seek some advice from our page on trying again after a miscarriage.

Remember, our midwives are always here to support, whatever stage you are at on your journey. You can email them at [email protected]or phone our free information line 0800 0147 800 from 9 – 5, Monday - Friday. Whatever your question, whatever your concern, you do not have to tackle it on your own.

 You can read the original article at The Daily Mail Online here.