A company in the UK has launched a new mail-order fertility test, which it says can help women to decide how long they can wait before having children. Called the 'Plan Ahead Kit', the test retails for £179, and is designed to work out the number of eggs that a woman has left in her ovaries. From this, it predicts the woman's 'ovarian reserve' for the following two years.
Lifestyle Choices, the company who created the Plan Ahead Kit, say that the test will enable women to make informed choices about whether they can delay motherhood, and how long for. A woman's fertility declines as she gets older, and usually decreases markedly after the age of 35, with the result that many women who put off motherhood find that they have problems conceiving.
The test works by measuring the level of three different hormones in the blood; follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), made by the pituitary gland, and Inhibin B and anti-mullerian hormone (AMH), both made by the ovaries. Women who buy the test receive a kit, have their blood taken by a professional on the second or third day of their period, then send this to a laboratory for analysis. Studying the levels of these hormones gives an indication of the number of eggs in reserve; this allows women who may face an early menopause to find out that they may not want to delay conceiving for too long. Women receive a letter explaining the results of their test along with a graph that shows their hormone levels compared to levels expected in women of a similar age. They also receive the number of a telephone helpline, which has been set up to answer any of their concerns.
The test was developed by Professor Bill Ledger, from the University of Sheffield. He said that women needed to be more aware of the risks of putting off pregnancy. 'Fertility clinics are full of fortysomethings who are, unfortunately, very difficult to help', he said, adding 'they believe that IVF will be the answer to their problems but at this age there is, sadly, only a five to 10 per cent chance of a live birth'. He also said that because the test measures more than just one hormone, unlike many other tests, it is the most accurate hormonal test on the market. He hopes that 'Plan Ahead will help many women avoid the anguish caused by the early or unexpected arrival of declining fertility and menopause'.
However, others have expressed caution about women relying on the results of one test to make important life decisions and that the test cannot give an accurate overall picture of fertility. Clare Brown, chief executive of patient support group Infertility Network UK, said that 'Plan Ahead is a good method for women to check out whether their ovarian reserve is diminishing or otherwise allowing them to make a more informed decision on when to have a family'. But, she added, 'it is important to recognise though that while Plan Ahead is a valuable test, there are other factors that may cause difficulties in conceiving so it is vital that men and women make sure they are fully informed when making decisions on when to have a family'.
Richard Kennedy, a Coventry-based fertility expert and spokesman for the British Fertility Society, said that the test 'gives information but it might also engender false anxieties'. He added: 'Normally when we do tests it's in a hospital setting with follow-up care and advice. But home-based testing is the way things are going'.