Number ‘freezing’ eggs or embryos soars, IVF figures show

The number of people who opt to “freeze” their eggs or embryos has increased five-fold in the UK since 2013, new figures show.

Health officials have documented a surge in the number of IVF “storage cycles” where people undergo fertility treatment and store their eggs or embryos until a later date.

Data from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) show that the number of embryo and egg storage cycles increased by 523% between 2013 and 2018 – from 1,500 cycles in 2013 to just under 9,000 in 2018.

There was a 93% rise in frozen embryo transfer cycles between 2013 and 2018 – up from 13,421 to 25,889 – and an 11% decrease in the number of fresh embryo transfers – from 48,391 in 2013 to 42,835 in 2018.

The rise in the number of patients choosing to freeze their eggs or embryos could be attributed to improved freezing facilities, advances in treatment options, and an increased desire for patients to store their eggs and/or embryos for future use or for fertility preservation.

Meanwhile, the latest figures from the fertility authority show that the multiple birth rate from IVF treatment has reached a record low.

Fertility clinics have been working to a target to reduce the number of women who fall pregnant with twins or triplets – as multiple births are the biggest risk to IVF mothers and babies.

In 2018, only 8% of IVF births resulted in a multiple birth.

The annual HFEA figures, which relate to IVF care in 2018, also show that the number of NHS-funded treatment varied across the UK – with 60% of cycles funded by the NHS in Scotland and falling to less than 30% in some parts of England.

The report also details the success of IVF treatments overall.

Around 54,000 patients had IVF treatment in 2018 and the average birth rate per embryo transferred for all IVF patients was 23%.

Age is still a key factor in IVF outcomes – with younger patients reporting higher success rates.

Patients under 35 had a birth rate of 31% per embryo transferred compared with 5% for patients aged 43 and above.

The report states that clinical improvements have led to increased chances of a live birth for all patients below 43 years old.

Higher birth rates were seen among women over the age of 40 when they used donor eggs in treatment, the HFEA said.

HFEA chair Sally Cheshire said: “While fertility treatment is never a guarantee for a baby, we are pleased to see that birth rates have increased over the years and the average birth rate is now steady at 23%.

“Whilst this leaves many couples without their longed for family after treatment, these small year-on-year increases are important for the sector to build on.

“Ever more patients are deciding to freeze their eggs and embryos and although still a relatively small part of fertility treatment overall, freezing techniques are now much more common with improved freezing technology and better success rates using frozen embryos.

“I am delighted that we have continued to make progress on reducing the multiple birth rate, making fertility treatment now safer than ever before.

“We know that multiple births are the biggest single health risk from IVF for mothers and babies and put an additional burden on the NHS.

“That’s why it is a great achievement that for the first time our 10% multiple birth rate target was achieved across all age groups and nationally only 8% of IVF births resulted in a multiple birth.

“This shows that there is now a common understanding that implanting more than one embryo does not increase your chances of having a baby.”

Commenting on the report, Professor Adam Balen, spokesperson on reproductive medicine for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said: “The latest statistics from the HFEA show a continued increase in the chance of having a baby with IVF and confirm once more that multiple pregnancy rates can be kept low without any reduction in the chance of a pregnancy by the transfer of a single embryo.

“What is hugely disappointing is the continued fall in NHS-funded cycles.

“IVF is seen to be an easy target. But infertility is a serious medical condition, resulting in huge stress and distress and caused itself by a large number of different medical problems.

“Indeed, it is the second commonest reason for women of reproductive years to visit their GP.

“IVF is cost effective and has shown to be an economic benefit to society.”

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