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Women recommended to freeze eggs

11 September 2006
Appeared in BioNews 375

Two fertility experts have told the annual British Fertilisation Society (BFS) conference in Glasgow that women in their 30s should consider freezing their eggs if they wish to have children in the future. Dr Melanie Davis said the danger of decreased fertility and the 'well of suffering' faced by those who 'leave it too late' may be obscured by statistical figures indicating increased success rates of first births to the over-35s. For the first time, more women in their 30s are becoming pregnant compared to those in their 20s and women are increasingly delaying pregnancy despite clear dangers of decreased fertility, which is usually lost 8 to 10 years before the menopause. 'It is the age of the egg, not the age of the womb, which determines the miscarriage rate', said Dr Davies, who recommended that women in their 30s should consider freezing their egg. She highlighted that 'IVF is not a safe insurance policy for women over 40 who want to have their own children'.

Dr Gillian Lockwood, medical director of Midland Fertility Services, gave a lecture at the same conference outlining similar concerns. Dr Lockwood spoke of a 'Bridget Jones Generation of women who, although are generally aware of the difficulties and dangers of late pregnancy, are choosing to have children later in life for social reasons. Wanting to pursue a career, being more comfortable financially, or simply waiting for the right person to father their child, are among the reasons that women choose to delay pregnancy, she said. Dr Lockwood also said that women in their 30s and early 40s look and feel younger than their age but then presume to have the same reproductive choices. So called 'time expired eggs at 40 are linked to higher risks of Down's syndrome and miscarriage. 'The message does not seem to be getting across, and society is not helping women to have children and a career', said Dr Lockwood.

Dr Davies and Dr Lockwood both carefully stress that freezing eggs does not carry a guaranteed success rate. 'I don't want to encourage women who could have a family at the normal time not to do so because they think egg freezing will be an alternative', said Dr Lockwood. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists agreed, saying that whilst women should be aware of all the options, having babies earlier remained the best option. Other responses were less accepting of the process. Josephine Quintavalle, from Comment on Reproductive Ethics, said that cyropreservation was 'an absurd solution to society's problems' and that women should be encouraged to find 'Mr Right' earlier rather than later.

Frozen eggs cost on average £100 a year to store and the procedure to obtain the eggs costs around £2000. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) lists 32 clinics in the UK that are licensed to extract and store eggs but say only 10 offer the full service. Between 1999 and 2004, 185 women stored their eggs in the UK, resulting in three pregnancies and four babies. In theory, eggs can be stored indefinitely, but the HFEA has set a 10-year storage limit in the UK. The quality of an egg frozen for many years cannot yet be ensured.

Scientists predict egg preservation will become commonplace in the future, and will become as fast and easy as sperm storage. In Japan, scientists have developed a new technique for freezing eggs which means 95 per cent will survive thawing. This is a vast increase on the current success rate of around 75 per cent.

However, Richard Kennedy, spokesman for the BFS, has hit back saying that women should not be encouraged to freeze their eggs because the procedure has a poor success rate. Mr Kennedy said, 'It is not the view of the BFS to encourage egg freezing for social reasons'. Other fertility experts have warned that freezing eggs for social reasons may take away from other areas of IVF. Mr Gbolade, a consultant gynaecologist at St James' University Hospital Leeds, said that, 'Why should people who postpone pregnancy for lifestyle reasons use resources that should be directed to solving the problems of other women who cannot have children?'

In related news, a new study claims that older mothers who have IVF-conceived children are more likely to suffer from depression than younger women who have undergone the treatment are. Dr Jacky Boivin, who co-authored the study, said that it looked at how pregnancies in older women impacted the family environment and the child's well being. The findings were presented also at the BFS conference last Thursday.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
IVF experts advise caution on egg freezing
The Guardian |  7 September 2006
IVF study reveals older mothers more prone to depression and stress
The Sunday Herald |  3 September 2006
Women in 30s 'should freeze eggs'
BBC News Online |  7 September 2006
Women told to 'freeze eggs early'
The Scotsman |  7 September 2006
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