The number of women freezing their eggs has risen five-fold since 2013, official figures show, in part thanks to “revolutionary” technology which has boosted success rates.
Health officials have documented a surge in the number of IVF “storage cycles” where people undergo fertility treatment and store their eggs or embryos until a later date.
Data from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) show that the number of embryo and egg storage cycles increased by 523 per cent between 2013 and 2018 – from 1,500 cycles in 2013 to just under 9,000 in 2018.
There was a 93 per cent rise in frozen embryo transfer cycles between 2013 and 2018 – up from 13,421 to 25,889, and an 11 per cent decrease in the number of fresh embryo transfers – from 48,391 in 2013 to 42,835 in 2018.
Around 54,000 patients had IVF treatment in 2018 and the average birth rate per embryo transferred for all IVF patients was 23 per cent.
Experts say the rise could be attributed to the significant improvements to the method known as vitrification.
First used in the UK around 2010, vitrification freezes the eggs roughly 600 times faster than the old method meaning they are more likely to thaw intact.
A paper due to be released next month in the Reproductive BioMedicine Online journal details how eggs now have more than 80 per cent chance of survival thanks to the method.
“The appliance of this technology is causing a worldwide revolution to how IVF cycles are done,” said Dr Kamal Ahuja, paper co-author, who was a student under Professor Sir Robert Edwards who invented IVF.
“It’s a very flexible approach that enables more women to have the treatment in a more cost effective way and a safer way,” Dr Ahuja said.
Professor Geeta Nargund, medical director of CREATE Fertility, said the new data is a “fair reflection” of technological advances and increasing awareness of age-related decline in fertility.
“Egg freezing represents almost like the second wave of female emancipation… it has given women the reproductive choice they need if they are not ready to start a family,” she said.
Common reasons for egg freezing include not having a suitable partner, financial instability, or pursuing a career, Prof Nargund added.
Dr Zeynep Gurtin, of University College London’s Institute for Women’s Health, said the market for egg freezing is also “driven in large part” by advertising from private clinics.
“The technology has got better, there has been a lot of media discussion around egg freezing and women are becoming aware of it, but also some of the large clinics have invested quite explicitly in egg freezing marketing and advertising over the last couple of years,” she said.