November 26, 2004

Women ‘Undergoing Unnecessary Tests’

Women suffering fertility problems and repeated miscarriages are being subjected to useless tests and treatments, researchers warned today.

As well as having no scientific rationale, the treatments also risk dangerous side-effects to both mother and foetus, they said.

The researchers said infertile women who were vulnerable to 'financial exploitation' were also at risk of being exposed to powerful treatments for which the evidence of effectiveness was unknown.

Fertility clinics are increasingly offering women with recurrent miscarriage and infertility problems tests to measure the number and activity of natural killer (NK) cells, which circulate in the blood.

The cells are found in the womb and accumulate in large numbers during early pregnancy, but their function is completely unknown.

Writing in the British Medical Journal the team, from Cambridge University, said the tests were based on speculation that women who had suffered miscarriages and infertility had raised levels of NK cells.

This led to many women being offered powerful treatments, such as steroids or immune suppressant drugs, to reduce levels of NK cells.

The authors argued that not only did the tests give no useful information about what was happening in the womb, the treatments were not appropriate for use in reproductive medicine without proof of benefit because they were linked to risks to mother and foetus.

They said the treatments were offered despite guidelines from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and two other reviews which concluded there was no evidence to show they were beneficial.