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

The number of women opting to freeze their eggs or embryos in the UK rose 523 per cent rise between 2013 and 2018, according to a new report. 

New figures reveal that, in 2018, 9,000 women underwent fertility treatment to store their eggs or embryos until a later date.

This was up from 1,500 so-called ‘storage cycles’ in 2013, according to the report by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA)

Within this, the number of women opting to freeze their unfertilised eggs rose from 569 to 2,000 during the five-year period – a 240 per cent rise.

Freezing allows women who are not ready to have children – either for career or financial reasons, or because they have not found the right partner – to store their eggs, so they can be used in IVF when they are ready for a family.  

The report also reveals that the success rate for IVF has tripled in the past 20 years, with a third of all embryo transfers in women under 35 resulting in a baby. 

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) report looks at rates of IVF storage cycles, the success of the procedure and multiple births from 2013 to 2018. Stock image

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) report looks at rates of IVF storage cycles, the success of the procedure and multiple births from 2013 to 2018. Stock image

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) report looks at rates of IVF storage cycles, the success of the procedure and multiple births from 2013 to 2018. Stock image 

Sharon Jones froze her eggs when she was 32 after she felt her ‘biological clock ticking’, but said she wasn’t in a position to have a baby at the time

Fertility campaigner Sarah Norcross from the Progress Educational Trust said women now see social egg freezing as a ‘valid reproductive choice’. 

‘The women we have spoken to value motherhood and having a family is really important to them and so they are choosing to freeze their eggs as a back-up plan in case they need them in the future,’ she said.

‘Of course, they may not need them as they may find a partner and get pregnant the old-fashioned way.

‘I think there is a greater awareness of egg freezing as a reproductive choice and also of the biological clock and so women are choosing to invest money in trying to improve their reproductive options.’

IN FIGURES: AN EGG FREEZING CYCLE COSTS UP TO £8,000 

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority says it can cost £8,000 for an egg freezing cycle. 

  • £3,350 for collection and freezing
  • £1,500 for medication
  • £350 per year for storage 
  • £2,500 to thaw the eggs

There can be a lengthy process involved in preparing to freeze eggs.

  • Testing for infectious diseases
  • Two to three weeks of medication to boost egg production
  • Eggs collected under sedation or general anaesthetic 
  • Eggs then frozen and stored in liquid nitrogen

Most women have about 14 eggs collected through this process and are stored for up to a decade. 

The number of people freezing eggs is still relatively small but it is increasing. 

About 2,000 women opted to freeze their eggs in 2018, up from 569 just five years earlier. 

A third of all embryo transfers in women under 35 result in a baby. 

The procedure is available at more than 100 private and hospital-based fertility clinics across the country.  

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She added that the rise in the number of women freezing eggs for non-medical purposes – for the chance to have their own genetic baby later –  was ‘dramatic’.

There was a 93 per cent rise in frozen embryo transfer cycles between 2013 and 2018 – up from 13,421 to 25,889.

At the same time, the regulator saw an 11 per cent 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, the regulator said.

It could also be due to advances in treatment options, and an increased desire for patients to store their eggs and/or embryos for future use or for fertility preservation.

Dr Jane Stewart, a fertility specialist, said new technology and improvements played a part in the demand increase.

‘2013-18 was a time when vitrification became a much more reliable technique and surpassed slow freezing especially for eggs. there has been an increasing awareness and use of this both for fertility preservation for women (rather than embryos) increasing its use and of course the increase in social freezing. The HFEA data doesn’t distinguish,’ she said.

Norcross  said the government needed to scrap the 10-year limit on egg freezing storage as more people begin to make use of the technology.

She said it needed to happen ‘before hundreds more women face the stark choice of having to destroy their frozen eggs and perhaps their best chance of becoming a biological mother.’

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 per cent of IVF births resulted in a multiple birth, figures reveal.

The annual HFEA figures, which relate to IVF care in 2018, also show that the number of NHS-funded treatment varied across the UK.

There were 60 per cent of cycles funded by the NHS in Scotland but this dropped to less than 30 per cent being funded in some parts of England.

The report also details the success of IVF treatments overall, finding that of the 54,000 having IVF in 2018 the average birth rate was 23 per cent.

Age is still a key factor in IVF outcomes – with younger patients reporting higher success rates from the fertility treatment than older patients.

Patients under 35 had a birth rate of 31 per cent per embryo transferred compared with 5 per cent 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. 

Health officials also found that the success rate for IVF had tripled in the past 20 years - with a third of all embryo transfers in women under 35 resulting in a baby. Stock image

Health officials also found that the success rate for IVF had tripled in the past 20 years - with a third of all embryo transfers in women under 35 resulting in a baby. Stock image

Health officials also found that the success rate for IVF had tripled in the past 20 years – with a third of all embryo transfers in women under 35 resulting in a baby. Stock image 

CASE STUDY: SHARON JONES OPTED TO FREEZE HER EGGS AGED 32 AS SHE ‘FELT HER BIOLOGICAL CLOCK TICKING’ BUT WASN’T READY FOR A BABY AT THE TIME 

Sharon Jones froze her eggs when she was 32 after she felt her ‘biological clock ticking’, but said she wasn’t in a position to have a baby at the time.

Her career, finances, lifestyle and lack of a partner meant that having a child wasn’t an option, but she wanted to keep her options open.

Sharon Jones froze her eggs when she was 32 after she felt her ‘biological clock ticking’, but said she wasn’t in a position to have a baby at the time

‘There wasn’t one single motivation behind freezing my eggs’, she told Mail Online. ‘Life changed over the last few years, I was travelling, working and had a lot going on.’ 

After a lot of soul searching and a few years of research Sharon decided to take the plunge and freeze her eggs, but she said it was an ’emotional journey’. 

‘I want to be a mum but I just haven’t met anyone yet and am still enjoying my life. But I was aware of my biological clock ticking,’ she said. 

It was a difficult decision in terms of financing as well. ‘Do I borrow money, put it on an interest free card, or find other ways to pay for it?’ she said.

Eventually Sharon just got to a point where she ‘had to just take the plunge’ and was able to find the money to pay for the treatment which can cost up to £8,000 and is not available on the NHS if there is not medical necessity.

Now 35, she actually wanted to freeze her eggs in her late 20s as ‘the older you get the less chance of them producing a baby’, but was put off by the 10-year rule.

That is where any eggs frozen for ‘social reasons’ rather than medical are destroyed after a decade and she wasn’t sure she’d be ready to have a baby by her late-30s.

However, she has called for the government to scrap the ten year rule - where eggs are destroyed after a decade - adding that if she had the choice she would have frozen her eggs much earlier as the younger you are the more viable your eggs will be

However, she has called for the government to scrap the ten year rule - where eggs are destroyed after a decade - adding that if she had the choice she would have frozen her eggs much earlier as the younger you are the more viable your eggs will be

However, she has called for the government to scrap the ten year rule – where eggs are destroyed after a decade – adding that if she had the choice she would have frozen her eggs much earlier as the younger you are the more viable your eggs will be

Sharon said that, while it was a difficult decision to delay, she doesn’t regret it, adding that the process gave her the feeling of ‘control over her fertility’.

She is fully aware that there is a chance the process might not work and could have been for nothing, but the investment was worthwhile for the ‘peace of mind’ knowing the option is there brings.    

‘It gives me more opportunities and choices over my own fertility and provides me with a sense of control, although I know it isn’t real control due to the risks,’ she said.

However, she has called for the government to scrap the ten year rule, adding that if she had the choice she would have frozen her eggs much earlier as the younger you are the more viable your eggs will be.

‘The 10-year rule was 100 per cent a deciding factor for me. It made me put it off which could cause me problems. The rule is unfair and there is no scientific reason behind it,’ Sharon 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 per cent.

‘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.’

Cheshire said more patients are deciding to freeze their eggs and embryos due to freezing techniques becoming more common and improved technology. 

HIGHLIGHTS: FERTILITY REGULATOR PUBLISHES 2013 TO 2018 REPORT INTO IVF 

  • About 54,000 patients had 68,724 fresh and frozen in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) cycles in 2018
  • In 2018, the average birth rate per embryo transferred for all IVF patients was 23 per cent 
  • Birth rates for patients below 35 were 31 per cent per embryo transferred
  • For patients over 43 the rate was below 5 per cent when using their own eggs
  • The live birth rate per embryo transferred remains above 20 per cent for the first three cycles of IVF 
  • Donor eggs can considerably increase the chance of a live birth to above 25 per cent
  • Only 18 per cent of patients aged 40 and older used donor eggs in 2018
  • The multiple birth rate decreased to 8 per cent in 2018 for the first time 
  • Since 2013, the number of egg and embryo storage cycles increased fivefold to just under 9,000 cycles 
  • The level of NHS funding for fertility treatment saw 60 per cent of cycles funded by the NHS in Scotland 
  • This fell to less than 30 per cent in some parts of England

 

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

‘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 figures show a continued increase in the chance of having a baby with IVF.

Adding that they ‘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.’

However, Professor Balen called out the ‘continued fall in NHS-funded cycles’, saying it was a disappointing trend.

‘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.’  

Dr Jane Stewart, Chair of British Fertility Society, said it was good to see cumulative data on IVF treatment and the overall increases in live births.

‘It is however salutary to see the marked decline of NHS funding,’ said Stewart.

‘Our government made a special case for fertility treatments to restart as health services began to re-open during COVID restrictions. It would be good to see proper funding backing up that support.’ 

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