An Oxford academic has warned that egg freezing clinics are “preying” on women’s concerns to sell a treatment they may not need or possibly not working on.
Professor Imogen Goold said women in their late 30s or older should not be encouraged to pay to freeze their eggs because their chances of successfully using the eggs to have babies are very slim.
Research has shown that the likelihood of a frozen egg causing a live birth decreases significantly with the age at which the egg is frozen. Success rates for eggs frozen when women are 36 to 39 years old can drop as low as three percent.
Speaking at the fertility charity Progress Education Trust’s annual conference this week, Prof Goold said: “I think the worst thing is to sell egg freezing to women in their late 30s. Because selling that egg to a 39-year-old in hopes he can use that egg at 45 is really problematic.”
She said women need better access to unbiased advice about the realities of egg freezing so they can make informed decisions about what’s best for them.
“It’s such a market that [clinics are] Hunting down women who are worried and getting them to splash money on an issue. The business services that offer this obviously have a vested interest in telling. [women] It works really well and they need it – and that’s what needs to be balanced,” he added.
According to the latest statistics from the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HFEA), two-thirds of egg freezing cycles performed in the UK involve women aged 35 and over.
The number of egg freezing cycles involving women over 35 has increased more than 10 times in a decade, from 148 in 2010 to 1,589 in 2019.
Of the 2019 cycles, 382 included women aged 40 and over, and 23 of these included women aged 45 and over.
An egg freezing cycle is typically advertised as around £2,500 to £4,000, but this does not usually include costs such as medications and egg storage, which can cost up to £8,000.
Storage costs around £300 to £350 per year. When a woman is ready to have a baby, she will have to pay additional costs – often thousands of pounds – for an IVF cycle to use the frozen egg.
Prof Goold said success rates are higher in women who freeze eggs in their 20s or early 30s, with about one-fifth of cycles resulting in a live birth.
She said young women who want to freeze their eggs should be encouraged if this is “an investment they want to make so they can live their lives the way they want”, and criticized young women as “paternalistic”. they could not be trusted to make the right decision for them.
But he cautioned that some women feel pressured to pay for the procedure.
“The really awful scale of this is that it’s really expensive and obviously people will try to make a profit by selling it to women who don’t really need it – and they will try to,” he said.
“The real problem is that most people who buy it as an insurance policy will not need it, as most insurance policies do. And it’s not cheap.”
‘False sense of security’
IVF clinics have previously been accused of confusingly using statistics to give women a “false sense of security” that egg freezing will ensure they will have babies in the future.
A 2020 analysis of the websites of the UK’s 15 largest clinics by University College London researchers found that definitions of egg freezing triggered “unrealistic concerns about not freezing your eggs and … unrealistic expectations about potential success rates”.
Clare Ettinghausen from the HFEA said: “More women than ever before are choosing to freeze their eggs, but the numbers are still very low and often do not return to use their eggs in time.
“Women considering freezing their eggs should understand that this is not an insurance policy that can guarantee a future baby.
“As fertility declines in their mid-30s, fertility clinics should advise patients on the likelihood of success of egg freezing from now on. Women wondering whether egg freezing is the right choice for them can also find unbiased information on the HFEA website.”