Frozen-thawed embryo transfer in a natural or mildly hormonally stimulated cycle in women with regular ovulatory cycles: a RCT

Karen Peeraer, Isabelle Couck, Sophie Debrock, Diane De Neubourg, Peter De Loecker, Carla Tomassetti, Annouschka Laenen, Myriam Welkenhuysen, Luc Meeuwis, Sofie Pelckmans, Christel Meuleman, Thomas D'Hooghe
Human Reproduction 2015, 30 (11): 2552-62

STUDY QUESTION: Can ovarian stimulation with low dose hMG improve the implantation rate (IR) per frozen-thawed embryo transferred (FET) when compared with natural cycle in an FET programme in women with a regular ovulatory cycle?

SUMMARY ANSWER: Both IR and live birth rate (LBR) per FET were similar in the group with mild ovarian stimulation and the natural cycle group.

WHAT IS KNOWN ALREADY: Different cycle regimens for endometrial preparation are used prior to FET: spontaneous ovulatory cycles, cycles with artificial endometrial preparation using estrogen and progesterone hormones, and cycles stimulated with gonadotrophins or clomiphene citrate. At present, it is not clear which regimen results in the highest IR or LBR. More specifically, there are no RCTs in ovulatory women comparing reproductive outcome after FET during a natural cycle and during a hormonally stimulated cycle.

STUDY DESIGN, SIZE, DURATION: A total of 410 women scheduled for FET during 579 cycles (December 2003-September 2013) were enrolled in an open-label RCT to natural cycle (NC FET group, n = 291) or to a cycle hormonally stimulated with s.c. gonadotrophins (hMG FET group, 37.5-75 IU per day, n = 288). A total of 672 embryos were transferred during 434 cycles (332 embryos and 213 cycles in the NC FET group; 340 embryos and 221 cycles in the hMG FET group). Assuming a = 0.05 and 80% power, it was calculated that 219 frozen-thawed embryos were required for transfer in each group to demonstrate a difference of 10% in IR.

PARTICIPANTS/MATERIALS, SETTING, METHODS: Women were eligible according to the following inclusion criteria: regular ovulatory cycle, female age ≥21 years and ≤45 years, informed consent. FET cycles with preimplantation genetic screening were excluded. The primary outcome was IR per embryo transferred. Secondary outcomes included IR with fetal heart beat (FHB), LBR per embryo transferred and endometrial thickness on the day of hCG administration. Statistical analysis was by intention to treat and controlled for the presence of multiple measures, as eligible women could be randomized in more than one cycle. Chi-square and independent t-test were used to compare categorical and continuous variables. The relative risk (RR) was estimated using a Poisson model with log link. Hierarchical models with random intercepts for patient and cycle were considered to account for clustering of cycles within patients and of embryos within cycles.

MAIN RESULTS AND THE ROLE OF CHANCE: The primary outcome, IR per embryo transferred, was not statistically different between the NC FET group (41/332 (12.35%)) and in the hMG FET group (55/340 (16.18%)) (RR 1.3 (95% confidence interval (CI) 0.9-2.0), P = 0.19). Similarly, the secondary outcome, IR with FHB per embryo transferred, was 34/332 (10.24%) in the NC FET group and 48/340 (14.12%) in the hMG FET group (RR 1.4 (95% CI 0.9-2.1), P = 0.15). The LBR per embryo transferred was 32/332 (9.64%) in the NC FET group and 45/340 (13.24%) in the hMG FET group (RR 1.4 (95% CI 0.9-2.2), P = 0.17). Endometrial thickness was also similar in both groups [8.9 (95% CI 8.7-9.1) in the NC FET group and 8.9 (95% CI 8.7-9.1) in the hMG FET group]. The duration of the follicular phase was significantly shorter (P < 0.001) in the hMG FET group [13.7 days (95% CI 13.2-14.2)] than in the NC FET group [15.4 days (95% CI 14.8-15.9)].

LIMITATIONS, REASONS FOR CAUTION: Randomization of cycles instead of patients; open-label design; relatively long period of recruitment.

WIDER IMPLICATIONS OF THE FINDINGS: Our observation that the IR per embryo transferred is not significantly increased after FET during natural or gonadotrophin stimulated cycle, suggests that the effect of mild hormonal stimulation with gonadotrophins is smaller than what was considered clinically relevant with respect to reproductive outcome after FET. These data suggest that endometrial receptivity is not relevantly improved, but also not impaired after hormonal stimulation with gonadotrophins. Since FET during a natural cycle is cheaper and more patient-friendly, we recommend this regimen as the treatment of choice for women with regular cycles undergoing FET.




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