At the end of June, The European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE) released new stats on the success rates for assisted reproduction across Europe.
And let’s just say they didn’t paint a flattering picture.
Media outlets commented on how ‘IVF and ICSI is becoming less successful throughout Europe’.
And ESHRE said the data they’d collected – from 800,000 treatment cycles performed in 2016, with 165,000 babies born – suggested ‘success rates after IVF or ICSI appear to have reached a peak’ and are ‘indicative of a slight decline in pregnancy rate’.
But, to me, that’s wholly unhelpful.
We have to interpret these figures correctly and while we also bear in mind the real-world backdrop in which these treatments take place.
And it’s wrong to say that IVF and ICSI is becoming ‘less effective’ – because facilities should be praised for keeping pace with a rapidly ageing population.
Despite extensive research, new methodologies, new incubators and new drugs, clinics are facing the problem of treating a much older generation than in previous years.
The average age of patients has increased dramatically over the past five years in particular.
At my own clinic, the average age of patients was 36 years old in 2015, where it’s now 41.5 years old. That’s a huge increase.
Therefore any IVF or ICSI success rates announced last year need to be viewed in light of the increased difficulties assisted reproduction practitioners face.
If anything, we’re outperforming expectations to stay ahead of the curve.
Fertility in females and males declines as we age. This is a simple biological fact.
We don’t have the same fertility at 40 as we do aged 25 or 30.
With increased age we also see patients with a higher body mass index and who are less healthy than those younger in years.
This also impacts on an IVF clinic’s success rates.
As for the ESHRE release, there’s at least something we can all agree on – and that’s how IVF cycles involving frozen embryos are increasing.
Nowadays, the preferred method of fertility treatment is a single embryo transfer.
And vitrification, or fast freezing, has made this possible as it gives us a very good survival rate of embryos.
The trend is to perform just a single embryo transfer to avoid the risk of multiple gestation, to eliminate the risks for mothers and children.
Ten years ago, vitrification was not well established or used in a routine way.
We just had a slow method of freezing, which was less efficient in terms of embryo survival and pregnancy rates.
But at my own clinic last year, we had around 733 cycles and 780 fresh cycles, which shows how important this technology is to us.”