This is the first edition of this paper.
Plain language summary
Although a woman’s fertility declines markedly in her late-30s and early-40s, gradually more and more women start a family at this stage of their lives, with the average age of childbirth progressively increasing.
More women are storing their eggs to give them the potential opportunity to have a baby in the future. Nonetheless, the number of egg freezing cycles accounts for less than 2% of IVF cycles, and the number of cycles using stored eggs is even lower.
The technology for freezing eggs changed dramatically about a decade ago with the development of a technique of rapid freezing called vitrification, which gives success rates almost as good as using fresh eggs. The growing use of this technique, and the publicity surrounding how this technique may have been promoted, has led to this paper.
It is essential that women are very clearly informed about the likely success rates of egg freezing, particularly as it is entirely provided by the private sector, with the associated concerns of financial costs and inappropriate or inaccurate marketing.
The success of egg freezing is strongly dependent on the age of the woman at the time of freezing her eggs, with much higher success rates in those aged 35 years and under.
Current legislation only allows women to store eggs for 10 years, which conflicts with the better success rates when women do so at a younger age.
The reasons behind the increase in egg freezing are complex, but the most common reason given by women storing eggs is that they do not have a partner and are concerned that by the time they do find themselves in a relationship within which they wish to start a family, they may not be able to.
We conclude that elective egg freezing provides women with an opportunity to take action about the drop in their fertility, but at present most women who are doing this are already in their later 30s when the success rates are limited.
We strongly support the need for improved and continuing education of both women and men regarding the decline in female fertility with age.
Declaration of interests (guideline developers)
Professor RA Anderson FRCOG, Edinburgh: Professor Anderson undertakes consultations for Glasgow Centre for Reproductive Medicine, which is a private medical organisation that offers elective oocyte cryopreservation.
Miss MC Davies FRCOG, London: None declared.
Mr SA Lavery MRCOG, London: None declared.