For what it’s worth: Study helps answer what age women should reconsider IVF treatment

By Melissa Coade

March 25, 2022

ICF needle going into a human egg
The age for women when IVF treatments become statistically futile is known. (Christoph Burgstedt/Adobe)

A new Australian cost-effectiveness study has determined the age for women when in vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatments become statistically futile is some time at middle-age. 

The analysis used a measure known as the ‘quality-adjusted life years’ (QALYs) to determine women aged between 47 and 49 should reconsider the value of the procedure given the chances of the desired outcome.

During this age range, women statistically have a less than 0.3% chance of undergoing an IVF treatment that results in a live birth. By definition, this chance of success means the treatment was essentially futile, the study found. 

Commenting on the University of Melbourne and Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI) study, lead author and clinical associate professor Alex Polyakov said the question as to when to stop seriously considering IVF treatment was important for medical, economic and ethical reasons. But it was also difficult to answer definitively. 

“We argued that IVF should be treated like any other medical intervention and its outcome, i.e., the birth of a healthy child, can be assessed using conventional metrics, widely accepted in other areas of health care,” he said. 

Polyakov’s team used the study to attempt to define what he referred to as ‘futility in the sphere of fertility treatments’. The conventional cost-benefit approach of QALYs offered an objective ethical basis for advice about this medical intervention, he added. 

“The novelty of our approach is primarily based on the assertion that a child born as a result of IVF produces a net gain in QALYs and this can be translated into a monetary value, which can, in turn, be used to assess the cost-effectiveness of IVF treatments, in order to define futility,” he said. 

The Australian study used a computer simulation (or mathematical model) to predict the chances of IVF success and was published in the Human Reproduction journal on Tuesday.


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