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'Men Don't Have A Biological Clock' And Other IVF Myths You Should Know About

Trying to discern fact from fiction when it comes to IVF can sometimes be trickier than it should be.

With the amount of information out there when it comes to oocyte cryopreservation -- also known more commonly as egg freezing -- it can also be difficult to get the information you really need.

We often hear a lot about women and their 'ticking biological clock', yet last week, new research by Australian fertility experts found that men also have a biological clock that affects IVF.

The new study, by researchers from Monash University and Monash IVF, debunked the myth that only women experience declining fertility as they get older.

It found that older men are less likely to conceive with IVF, independent of female partner's age. A finding of the research showed that men’s chance of conceiving halved from the age of 50, compared to those under 40.

The male study participants’ chance of live birth also decreased by 4.1 per cent with each year of increased age. Image: Getty

Co-author of the study Beverley Vollenhoven, an IVF Fertility Specialist and Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology said the study emphasizes the need to think about both male and female age when it comes to fertility planning and assessment.

“For men, fertility declines each year they get older and is significantly worse by their fifties,” Professor Vollenhoven said.

For women, fertility decreases significantly from their mid-thirties because of reduced egg quality.

Professor Vollenhoven said it is vital that everyone is educated about the impact that age has on fertility, regardless of whether you are a man or woman, so that we can all make informed lifestyle choices.

This is especially important when considering in Australia, one in six couples struggle with infertility.

According to Dr Devora Lieberman, Clinical Director at City Fertility, there are also a number of other myths when it comes to IVF and egg freezing.

Dr Lieberman sets the record straight when it comes to these misunderstandings below:

Myth 1: A woman's biological clock ticks at the same rate as other women

The biological clock ticks at a different rate for every woman, according to Dr Lieberman.

"On average, women are most fertile in their twenties. Fertility begins to decline slowly from 30, more quickly from 35, and from 37 the slope gets very slippery," she told 10 daily.

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"In fact, by age 42, more than 50 percent of women will struggle to fall pregnant naturally1. But everyone is different, with some women experiencing a decline in fertility much earlier while others will conceive easily in their forties."

Myth 2: Egg freezing will reduce a woman's chance of falling pregnant naturally

A common worry by women is that freezing eggs will reduce their total egg pool and lower their chances of conceiving later.

"Every month in a natural cycle, a woman’s ovaries will produce multiple follicles that begin to develop, but only one will mature and release an egg. The rest of the follicles will be reabsorbed by the ovary never to be used again," Dr Lieberman said.

"When collecting eggs, the medication provided simply increases the efficiency of this biological system, allowing fertility specialists to retrieve eggs from follicles that would otherwise have been lost."

Myth 3: Women should freeze their eggs as early as possible

It's not a good idea to freeze your eggs 'just in case'. Image: Getty

While it’s true that freezing eggs before the age of 35 usually gives women a higher chance of success2,  Dr Lieberman reiterated this doesn’t mean teenagers or women in their early twenties should rush out to freeze their eggs ‘just in case’.

"The younger a woman is when she freezes eggs, the more time she has to eventually partner, reducing the chances that she will ever need those eggs," she explained.

"It is reasonable for a woman to wait until her early 30s, as the quality of eggs usually do not deteriorate significantly from age 25 to 324."

Myth 4: The ‘egg timer’ test will tell a woman how fertile she is, and if you need to freeze your eggs

Many women looking into freezing their eggs are told about the ‘egg timer test’, a blood test that measures the anti-Mullerian hormone, and gives an indication of the quantity of remaining eggs in your ovarian reserve.

"However, I wouldn’t recommend that women take this test simply ‘because they’re curious’, as the results can be misleading and result in unnecessary panic," Dr Lieberman warned.

Despite this assay sometimes being marketed as a test of fertility, it cannot measure egg quality and is not an accurate reflection of whether a woman will or will not be able to conceive.

For this reason, it is recommended that this test is ordered by a gynaecologists and fertility specialists who are trained in interpreting the results and explain them in detail.

Myth 5: Egg freezing guarantees a woman will be able to have a baby in the future

While IVF is sometimes used as an ‘insurance strategy’ for women looking to preserve their fertility or choosing to postpone motherhood, it doesn't mean it will always be successful.

"While egg freezing can help increase the likelihood of conceiving via IVF later in life, women should not rely solely on the procedure5. Frozen eggs can and often do result in successful pregnancies, but women should be aware that success is not guaranteed7," Dr Lieberman said.

"Instead, egg freezing provides another option and hope for women who are either not yet ready to have a family, or those who are looking to protect their fertility from damage caused by medical treatments such as chemotherapy."

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According to Dr Lieberman, the chance of a having a baby in the future will depend on a woman’s age when she freezes eggs, as well as the number and quality7.

"In general, to maximise the chance of a baby, I would recommend three stimulated cycles, or 15-20 eggs in storage, whichever comes first," she said.

"According to the largest study published to date, a woman in her early thirties with that many eggs will have a 70-80 percent chance of success, while a woman 37-39 with the same number will have around a 40-50 percent chance6."

References: 

  1. Jansen, R. (2014). Getting Pregnant. Sydney: Allen & Unwin.
  2. G. (2015). Social Egg Freezing: Developing Countries Are Not Exempt. The Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology of India. 66 (4); 213-217.
  3. Igarashi, H., Takahashi, T and Nagaze, S. (2015). Oocyte aging underlies female reproductive aging: biological mechanisms and therapeutic strategies. Reproductive Medicine and Biology.
  4. Ben-Rafael, Z. (2018). The dilemma of social oocyte freezing: usage rate is too low to make it cost-effective. Reproductive BioMedicine Online Journal. 37 (4): 443-448.
  5. Petropanagos, A. (2010). Reproductive ‘Choice’ and Egg Freezing. Cancer Treatment and Research. 156 (1); 223-235.
  6. Cobo, A., Garcia-Velasco, J, Coello, A., Domingo, J., Pellicer, A and Remohi, J. (2016). Oocyte vitrification as an efficient option for elective fertility preservation. Fertility and Sterility. 105 (3); 755-764.
  7. Goldman, R. H., Racowsky, C., Farland, L.V., Munne, S., Ribustello, L., and Fox, J.H. (2017). Predicting the likelihood of live birth for elective oocyte cryopreservation: a counselling tool for physicians and patients. Human Reproduction. 32 (4); 853-859.

Featured image: Getty