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More evidence that women should be wary of ‘ovarian reserve testing’ events

Joy Victory is Deputy Managing Editor of HealthNewsReview.org. She tweets at @thejoyvictory.

A number of major news outlets reported on a new study in JAMA that determined ovarian reserve tests aren’t a good predictor of fertility among women trying to conceive naturally who have no history of infertility.

Common biomarker tests to assess ovarian reserve–including antimüllerian hormone (AMH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH)–are often given to women to assess their reproductive potential. In recent years, these common tests have been marketed directly to younger women in general as “ovarian reserve tests” or the “baby deadline test.”

But, the study found that the biomarkers were not associated with reduced fertility, and therefore “women should be cautioned against using AMH levels to assess their current fertility.”

STAT, HealthDayCNN and Reuters Health wrote about the study, and all did a solid job reporting on the results, gathering independent perspectives, and including important limitations to the findings–such as that the outcome measured was conception, and not carrying a baby to term.

But STAT and HealthDay dove into the deeper ramifications: The study calls into question the necessity of ovarian reserve tests that are marketed directly to women who plan to have a baby one day. As STAT noted:

“…Over the years, they’ve worked their way into being in the mainstream without evidence,” said Dr. Anne Steiner, a reproductive endocrinologist at the University of North Carolina and one of the study’s authors.

That’s led to a boom in ovarian reserve testing, both in the clinic and with direct-to-consumer tests from companies. One startup, Modern Fertility, is pre-selling a new $149 fertility test that measures FSH, AMH, and other fertility hormones. The company says physicians will tally all those measures up and calculate a “fertility score.”

“As we get older, fertility becomes a giant egg-shaped question mark,” the company said in an August blog post announcing the test.

It’s heartening to see news outlets cover this important dynamic to the study–because it’s something that already was being questioned by experts. [Addendum 10/12/17: Vox.com also explored the “fertility testing racket” in its coverage of the study.]

Earlier this year, I reported on “ovarian reserve testing” events marketed to women. Too often, experts said, the potential drawbacks aren’t disclosed in the promotions, and news coverage frequently lacks much-needed scrutiny on the usefulness of such tests. For example, a woman who finds out she has low ovarian reserve may assume she’s infertile and jump right into unnecessary fertility procedures. Or, a woman who has normal results may assume she’ll easily become pregnant. 

“It’s false reassurance because other factors–for example tubal scarring from endometriosis or past infection–that have nothing to do with the quality of eggs may be the cause of infertility,” said Dr. Karen Carlson, MD, a HealthNewsReview.org contributor and Director of Women’s Health Associates at Massachusetts General Hospital and Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School.

Read more:

Why you should be wary of ‘ovarian reserve testing’ events at fertility clinics

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Comments (1)

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Davina Fankhauser

October 12, 2017 at 10:51 am

These tests are a stepping-stone. They give some information to be discussed with a doctor. Doctors have always said these tests help learn how patients will respond to medicine used in fertility treatment. There is no diagnosis associated with the test results. There are too many factors in reproductive health to consider. While I agree the tests can’t predict if you are fertile or not, they do help patients start to think and talk about their reproductive health.