Saturday's Times ran a front page headline entitled 'Egg-freezing: we mustn't give women false hope'. The piece questioned the efficacy of egg-freezing and did so in strident terms. Yet behind the sensationalist headline Professor Robert Winston and poor data collection from the HFEA have inadvertently misled women about their fertility options with egg freezing. I have written a letter to the editor of The Times today because the article provided a seriously misleading account of current egg freezing techniques, which I would like to correct.
Fertility innovation must be backed by robust reporting. HFEA data collection has fallen behind the technology
The technology of egg freezing has undergone a revolution over the last few years as clinics have switched from a slow freezing process to vitrification, a process that significantly increases the chances of the egg surviving the freezing and thawing process. The HFEA data currently makes no distinction between slow freezing and vitrification in their data base and the key statistics quoted for outcomes represent what egg freezing was in the past and not what it is now in the present. Therefore these statistics cannot be relied upon as the technology has moved on and success rates have significantly improved.
Just as importantly, the HFEA data quoted in the Times does not give age-related success rates for egg freezing, which is important information for younger women who have much higher success rates. The age of eggs at the time of freezing determines the success of egg freezing. It is therefore meaningless to give success rates without quoting the age of the woman at the time of freezing.
Similarly it is vital to document the indication for egg freezing for the results will vary for example whether there was a medical need such imminent chemotherapy or not.
Data from Europe paints a more positive picture
Looking at the most recent scientific data from Europe, based on data which has been properly collected and documented, a very different picture of the relative success rates of egg freezing emerges. Data published in scientific journals by the Instituto Valenciano de Infertilidad, Universidad de Valencia in Spain in 2010, 2013 and 2014, show that of 3407 cycles of treatment for women freezing eggs for their own use, more than 80% of eggs were successfully thawed resulting in 1031 live births (i.e. 30% live birth rate), a similar rate to that we can expect when using fresh eggs. The success rates of frozen-thawed donated eggs are even higher.
Until proper data is collected here in the UK, women need to look beyond our own shores in order to uncover the real success of egg freezing.
Most UK clinics behave ethically and responsibly
Professor Winston implies that most private IVF units in the UK mislead and exploit women when it comes to IVF and egg freezing. This is not my experience. The practice of the vast majority of UK clinics is ethical and is very much in the best interests of patients and I am saddened to read such a distorted view of the UK scene.
Egg freezing is a valid option for many women
The reality is that thousands of healthy babies have been born with frozen -thawed eggs around the world. Scientific studies have shown that pregnancy rates and health outcomes following egg freezing are now comparable to those with IVF with fresh eggs.
Whether it be a cancer patient wishing to maintain the possibility of having a child post treatment, or a woman with a risk of an early menopause due to family history hoping to preserve her eggs or a single women who has yet to find the right partner, egg freezing represents an important and valid option for women. Modern techniques of egg freezing are successful and have given a real choice to women in the preservation of their fertility. It would be a great injustice if the piece in The Times was to turn any one woman of exploring whether egg freezing was a viable option for her. While we certainly must never give women false hope, misinformation and scaremongering can be just as dangerous. We have an obligation to protect women's autonomy, choice and reproductive rights.