January 26, 2023

Egg freezing clinics are “playing” on women’s fears of selling them a treatment they may not need or unlikely to work, an Oxford academic warned.

Professor Imogen Goold said women in their late 30s or older should not be encouraged to pay to freeze their eggs because the chances of successfully using them to have a baby were very slim.

Research has shown that the chances of a frozen egg leading to a live birth decrease dramatically as the age at which the egg was frozen increases. Success rates could be as low as three percent for frozen eggs when women were 36 to 39 years old.

At the annual conference of the fertility charity Progress Educational Trust, Prof Goold said this week: “I think the worst thing is selling egg freezing to women in their late 30s. Because selling to someone who is 39, hoping she can use that egg when she’s 45 is really problematic.”

She said women needed better access to unbiased advice about the realities of egg freezing so they could make informed decisions about what was best for them.

‘It has to be in balance’

“It’s the kind of market where [clinics are] preying on women who are anxious and leading them to throw money at a problem… Clearly the commercial services that offer it have a vested interest in telling [women] it works really well and they need that – and that’s what balance needs,” she added.

According to the latest statistics from the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HFEA), two-thirds of egg freezing cycles in the UK involve women aged 35 and over.

The number of egg freezing cycles involving women aged 35 and older has increased more than tenfold in a decade, from 148 in 2010 to a record high of 1,589 in 2019.

Of the 2019 cycles, 382 involved women age 40 and older — and 23 of those involved women age 45 and older.
An egg freezing cycle is typically advertised for around £2,500 to £4,000, but this often does not include costs such as medicines and egg storage, which can put the cost up to £8,000.

Storage costs around £300 to £350 a year. When a woman is ready to have a baby, she also has to pay extra costs – often thousands of pounds – for an IVF cycle to use the frozen egg.

Prof Goold said success rates were higher for women who frozen eggs in their 20s or early 30s, with about a fifth of cycles leading to a live birth.

Younger women who want to freeze their eggs should be encouraged if it’s “an investment they want to make so they can live their lives the way they want to,” she said, criticizing the idea as “paternalistic.” could not be trusted to make the right decision for themselves.

But she cautioned that some women felt pressured to pay for the procedure

“The really terrible dimension of it is that it’s very expensive, and obviously people will try — and try — to make a profit by selling it to women who don’t really need it,” she said.

“The real problem is that most people who buy this as insurance, like most insurance policies, don’t need it. And it’s not cheap.”

‘False sense of security’

IVF clinics have previously been accused of using statistics in a confusing way to give women a “false sense of security” that egg freezing will guarantee them a baby in the future.

A 2020 analysis of the websites of the UK’s 15 largest clinics by researchers at University College London found that descriptions of egg freezing “caused unrealistic fears about not freezing your eggs and unrealistic expectations…about the potential success rates “.

Clare Ettinghausen, from the HFEA, said: “More women than ever are choosing to have their eggs frozen, but the numbers are still very small and most are not going back to use their eggs over time.

“Women thinking about egg freezing should understand that it is not an insurance policy that can guarantee a baby in the future.

“As fertility declines in the mid-1930s, fertility clinics need to advise patients on the success rate of egg freezing afterward. Women wondering if egg freezing is the right choice for them can also find unbiased information on the HFEA -website.

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