For anyone interested in fertility, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) is the leading source of information in the UK. Each year, this independent regulator shares a report on IVF statistics in the UK. The findings give an overview of the IVF success rates across the country. In order to help patients understand the report, we asked our fertility nurse Kelly to explain and consider the chances of IVF working.
What are the chances of IVF working, looking at these figures?
Crucially, as with all statistics, we must understand what we’re looking at. The HFEA IVF statistics are national and only break down the figures by age, which makes them very broad. For example, the people included in the report could have any number of fertility issues we don’t know about. As I always say to patients – don’t use these figures as a Bible. However, they can give us a very rough guideline. The report shares that live birth rates are around 32% per embryo transfer among under 35s, compared to just 5% among patients aged 43+ using their own eggs.
Live birth rate per embryo transfer is probably one of the most useful statistics to look at. Conversely, be careful when comparing clinic IVF statistics. What one reports as its IVF success rate may be considering live birth rate per embryo transfer, while another is per cycle. Those figures are quite different, so make sure you’re comparing apples with apples.
How have trends changed in terms of IVF success rates in recent years?
From my experience, and this is supported by the report, the patients undergoing IVF treatment are getting older and older. This is a social trend – women tend to want to pursue a career and come to start a family later. Conceiving naturally gets harder as you get older, which means more couples are turning to IVF. The good news is, the report also shows that IVF success rates are improving year on year. This is all down to technology and I think we can expect to see those figures continue to rise in another 5-10 years’ time. Technology does vary between clinics. I would say that’s an advantage at a private fertility clinic compared to an NHS clinic, where limited funding may slow the advances they can make.
How do IVF success rates compare between frozen transfers and fresh?
Again, it pays to be critical when looking at IVF success rates for frozen embryo transfers compared to fresh. Without a doubt, there are more instances of patients choosing to freeze their embryos. Technology in vitrification has improved immensely in recent years. Additionally, many patients who aren’t ready to have a baby are electing to freeze their eggs for IVF treatment later. However, when considering IVF success rates, you will find some studies which say frozen is better, while others are the opposite.
The discrepancy is down to the fact that this research studies people who are all very different. The results can’t be definitive because there is no way to know if success is down to the fact their transfer was fresh/frozen, or due to add ons, or something else. Otherwise, don’t you think all the clinics would be advising their patients to do one or the other? The clinics want a high success rate – that’s what sells – if one were more successful than the other, that would be obvious.
What difference does using a donor egg make to the IVF success rates?
Without doubt, the use of donor eggs considerably increases the chance of a live birth to over 30% for all age groups. It’s not surprising, since the age of the egg will be a lot younger – egg donors must be under 35. Fundamentally, it’s all down to the egg quality. With age, you see a decline in egg quality and an increase in chromosome abnormality. As a result, there is an increase in miscarriage rates among older groups who don’t use a donor egg. For this reason Access Fertility offers an IVF Donor Egg Refund Programme, specially designed to support patients choosing to use donor eggs.
Is there anything else you think is useful for a patient to know from this study?
I will always say to patients ‘if you’re really interested in statistics, look at HFEA website as well as the clinic website’. However, it is so important to take IVF statistics with a pinch of salt and use them purely as a guideline. It is far more important that you choose a clinic close to you where you feel comfortable, and that you get the advice that’s tailored to your unique situation. A full consultation with your doctor is the only way to truly understand your chances of IVF working.