New freezing technique means mothers can store eggs longer
Leading doctors back plans to extend the time women can freeze their eggs to delay having a baby for longer than 10 years
- Current deadline is 10 years, after which families must make decision on eggs
- But leading doctors said this limit is ‘too restrictive and not fit for purpose’
- New paper states frozen eggs can be stored indefinitely without deterioration
Leading doctors have backed calls to extend the time women can freeze their eggs to delay having a baby.
Earlier this month the Government said it was considering changing limit for how long frozen eggs, sperm and embryos can be stored for.
Currently, the period is a maximum of 10 years, after which families must either go through with fertility treatment or destroy their eggs, sperm and embryos.
But the Royal College of Obstetricians (RCOG) said this limit is ‘too restrictive’ and often forces couples to have a baby they are not ready for.
The RCOG has released a new paper that concludes frozen eggs can be stored indefinitely without deterioration, due to a new freezing technique.
A new paper from the Royal College of Obstetricians (RCOG) concludes that frozen eggs can be stored indefinitely without deterioration, due to a new freezing technique (stock image)
Experts from the RCOG and The British Fertility Society (BFS) said that the current 10-year limit may encourage women to defer freezing her eggs until later in life, when the quality of the eggs will have deteriorated.
The groups have called for a change in the law which governs the storage limit for frozen eggs for non-medical reasons.
Egg freezing dates back to 1986 when the first pregnancy from a frozen egg was reported in the Lancet Journal.
Collected eggs were preserved in cryogenic tanks after being frozen ‘slowly’ for many years.
In the early 2000s, scientists began experimenting with an ‘ultra-rapid’ freezing technique called vitrification.
Using this process, the temperature of an egg plummets thousands of degrees per minute, resulting in a glass-like cell structure that is stronger than other crystalline ice forms.
They are then stored in cryogenic tanks, for up to 25 years.
In preparation for having her eggs retrieved, a woman must undergo the first stage of an IVF cycle, which uses hormones to stimulate more eggs into maturity, then another set of hormones to trigger the eggs’ release.
Patients inject these drugs at home and are usually closely monitored by their doctors.
There are many different forms of these hormone treatments, ranging in cost from about $800 (£625) to $6,000 (£4,675) per cycle, and six to 10 weeks in duration.
Then, the eggs are surgically retrieved in a minimally-invasive procedure.
RCOG spokesman Adam Balen, professor of reproductive medicine and surgery, said: ‘Currently, the 10-year limit is too restrictive and not fit for purpose because it means women are either forced to initiate a pregnancy they may not be ready for, or have their eggs destroyed.
‘The RCOG fully supports calls to remove this restriction and will work with the government and other key partners to find a solution to any storage issues that would be better for women.’
Dr Jane Stewart, chair of The British Fertility Society, added: ‘The 10-year limit is arbitrary and can be extended for those people who froze eggs for medical reasons. There is no scientific or medical reason why eggs frozen for social reasons couldn’t be kept for longer too.
‘As a sector, we want to offer all the support we can to our patients. Family planning is changing and many people choose to have children later in life. We wish to ensure that those who want to have a baby have the best possible chance of success.’
The bodies said that data from 2016 shows that 18 per cent of IVF treatments using a woman’s own frozen eggs were successful. The live birth rate for fresh IVF treatment in the same period was 26%.
The number of women freezing their eggs has soared by 257 per cent since 2012, with 1,462 egg freezing cycles in 2017 compared to 410 in 2012, while freezing technologies have become more advanced.
Both men and women may freeze their sperm and/or eggs for non-medical reasons, such as wanting to have children in future but not having a partner.
Currently, only those stored for medical reasons, such as cancer treatment, and premature infertility can be preserved for longer – up to 55 years in total.
Fertility doctors report that many women put off having a family to pursue their career.
They then realise in their late 30s that they have no partner, and will soon become too old to conceive naturally, so freeze their eggs to preserve their fertility.
But despite the popularity of the technology, the chance of success is low – with 85 per cent of eggs not even surviving the freezing process.
And it gets worse with age, with 8.2 per cent of frozen eggs resulting in a baby for under-35s, and just 3.3 per cent for older women.
Women in this age bracket need 30 frozen eggs on average to become pregnant.
HOW DOES IVF WORK?
In-vitro fertilisation, known as IVF, is a medical procedure in which a woman has an already-fertilised egg inserted into her womb to become pregnant.
It is used when couples are unable to conceive naturally, and a sperm and egg are removed from their bodies and combined in a laboratory before the embryo is inserted into the woman.
Once the embryo is in the womb, the pregnancy should continue as normal.
The procedure can be done using eggs and sperm from a couple or those from donors.
Guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends that IVF should be offered on the NHS to women under 43 who have been trying to conceive through regular unprotected sex for two years.
People can also pay for IVF privately, which costs an average of £3,348 for a single cycle, according to figures published in January 2018, and there is no guarantee of success.
The NHS says success rates for women under 35 are about 29 per cent, with the chance of a successful cycle reducing as they age.
Around eight million babies are thought to have been born due to IVF since the first ever case, British woman Louise Brown, was born in 1978.
Chances of success
The success rate of IVF depends on the age of the woman undergoing treatment, as well as the cause of the infertility (if it’s known).
Younger women are more likely to have a successful pregnancy.
IVF isn’t usually recommended for women over the age of 42 because the chances of a successful pregnancy are thought to be too low.
Between 2014 and 2016 the percentage of IVF treatments that resulted in a live birth was:
- 29 per cent for women under 35
- 23 per cent for women aged 35 to 37
- 15 per cent for women aged 38 to 39
- 9 per cent for women aged 40 to 42
- 3 per cent for women aged 43 to 44
- 2 per cent for women aged over 44
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