Fact Check: Is Freezing Human Eggs Really ‘Extremely Unsuccessful’?
John B. Appleby, 11 Nov 17

IVF. vchal/Shutterstock

Freezing eggs is extremely unsuccessful. Although it’s never admitted, it is true from the national statistics, how poor the chances of pregnancy are afterwards.

Lord Robert Winston, speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on November 1.

In the UK, if a woman wants her eggs frozen, she is given a course of drugs to help increase the production and maturity of her eggs. About 15 eggs are collected for freezing, preferably using a fast-freezing process called vitrification, which is thought to be more effective than slow freezing.

Freezing can preserve eggs for up to ten years – this is the time-limit placed on storage by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), the agency that regulates fertility treatments in the UK.

The cost of freezing eggs in the UK ranges from £2,500 to £5,000 (plus storage fees).

Despite the fact that the process of freezing eggs seems to be increasingly effective, it nevertheless appears that fertility expert, Lord Winston, is correct when he says that freezing eggs is extremely unsuccessful, given that the birth rate using these eggs is about 14%. But there’s more to the story.

The low success rate Lord Winston appears to be referring to is the number of live births that result from thawing frozen eggs. His office pointed The Conversation to a written question he recently submitted in the House of Lords on the issue.

The truth is that fertility experts are actually quite good at freezing eggs. It is the combined processes of thawing them – at which point some don’t survive – and then using in vitro fertilisation (IVF), that makes the success rate so low. But IVF isn’t that successful even when fresh eggs are used (about a 27% success rate).

And there’s more to the story. While the HFEA reports that the number of women freezing their eggs has risen year on year, the number of frozen eggs that are thawed and used in IVF, in the UK, remains very low. This means that not only is the 14% success rate based on a small sample, it may also reflect the fact that doctors in the UK don’t get much practice at conducting this procedure.

So, although the current success rate is low, it is likely to improve with time. Women who freeze their eggs now may see success rates increase by the time they want to use their eggs. And for many women – including those undergoing chemotherapy – freezing their eggs offers a glimmer of hope that wouldn’t have been possible a little over three decades ago.

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