It was no surprise to us when Vogue magazine and the Daily Mail published some rather disheartening figures recently about conception rates using frozen eggs.
Both publications highlighted a surprisingly low 10% success rate for live births per embryo transfer (the point at which a fertilised embryo is put back inside the womb), casting a shadow over the great deal of positive media attention that egg freezing has received of late.
Egg freezing had been hailed as the latest and greatest tool for feminist empowerment, giving working women the career opportunities that often go the way of their male counterparts, simply because female employees have to spend more time off work when starting a family. With the number of women in the UK who choose to freeze their eggs more than double between 2009 and 2012, it would seem that, for the women concerned, the potential benefits of the procedure far outweigh the risk of failure.
The widespread publication of such slim success rates will no doubt make many women think twice. Just 21 babies were born from frozen eggs between 1991 and 2012 – an average of just one baby per year. Those 21 babies came from a total of 253 fertility cycles, making the exact conception success rate of just 8.3%. That figure doesn’t take into account the number of IVF it took to achieve a conception, or the age at which each pregnant woman froze her eggs (eggs frozen at 25 would have a much greater chance of conceiving than eggs frozen at 40).
Embryo freezing has long been a much more successful process. The average pregnancy rate per frozen embryo transfer in 2011 was 24.7%, which increased to 26.8% with clients aged between 18 and 34 years old. Being the pioneer of Blastocyst Transfer in the UK the Herts & Essex Fertility Centre has one of the largest blastocyst transfer programmes in the country. A blastocyst is an embryo that is allowed to develop in the laboratory for up to six days after insemination. Up to 60% of embryos successfully grow to the blastocyst stage in the laboratory environment, and we routinely freeze embryos at the blastocyst stage to give them the best possible chance of developing when they are later thawed and implanted.
We always aim to offer our clients a wide range of fertility choices and options to suit their health, lifestyle and future plans. But we pride ourselves on never overpromising, and while we would never discourage a client from choosing to freeze her eggs (as long as her decision is a balanced and fully informed one), we always strive to give an honest account of what our treatments involve, and what the potential success rates and disadvantages of such treatments may be.
While the statistics are potentially extremely disheartening, it is worth noting that the egg freezing process has come a long way in the past five years. In particular, the vitrification process has improved significantly, and we may only be some years away from achieving a much higher success rate when using frozen eggs for IVF.
However egg freezing should never be seen as a convenient lifestyle or career choice. While it’s true that women who would like to pursue a career during their peak ‘childbearing’ years will stand a better chance of conceiving later in life if they freeze their eggs before the age of 30, even those who opt to freeze their eggs at a younger age should still be prepared for the very real prospect that their thawed eggs may never achieve conception.
As with all kinds of insurance, egg freezing comes with an excess that must be paid by the client. Unlike your home, car or phone insurance, the price the client has to pay when egg freezing doesn’t work is sadly an emotional one.
If you have any questions about egg freezing, or wish to speak to a member of our team about your options, please contact us on 01992 78 50 60.