STUDY QUESTION: Is the clinical pregnancy rate (CPR) following a frozen embryo transfer (FET) in a natural cycle (NC) higher after spontaneous ovulation than after triggered ovulation [natural cycle frozen embryo transfer (NC-FET) versus modified NC-FET]?

SUMMARY ANSWER: The CPR did not vary significantly between the two FET preparation protocols.

WHAT IS KNOWN ALREADY: Although the use of FET is continuously increasing, the most optimal endometrial preparation protocol is still under debate. For transfer in the NC specifically, conflicting results have been reported in terms of the outcome following spontaneous or triggered ovulation.

STUDY DESIGN, SIZE, DURATION: In a tertiary hospital setting, subjects were randomized with a 1:1 allocation into two groups between January 2014 and January 2019. Patients in group A underwent an NC-FET, while in group B, a modified NC-FET was performed with a subcutaneous hCG injection to trigger ovulation. In neither group was additional luteal phase support administered. All embryos were vitrified-warmed on Day 3 and transferred on Day 4 of embryonic development. The primary outcome was CPR at 7 weeks. All patients were followed further until 10 weeks of gestation when the ongoing pregnancy rate (OPR) was defined by the observation of foetal cardiac activity on ultrasound scan. Other secondary outcomes included biochemical pregnancy rate, early pregnancy loss and the number of visits, blood samples and ultrasonographic examinations prior to FET.

PARTICIPANTS/MATERIALS, SETTING, METHODS: A total of 260 patients (130 per study arm) were randomized, of whom 12 withdrew consent after study arm allocation. A total of 3 women conceived spontaneously before initiating the study cycle and 16 did not start for personal or medical reasons. Of the 229 actually commencing monitoring for the study FET cycle, 7 patients needed to be switched to a hormonal replacement treatment protocol due to the absence of follicular development, 12 had no embryo available for transfer after warming and 37 had a spontaneous LH surge before the ovulation trigger could be administered, although they were allocated to group B. Given the above, an intention-to-treat (ITT) analysis was performed taking into account 248 patients (125 in group A and 123 in group B), as well as a per protocol (PP) analysis on a subset of 173 patients (110 in group A and 63 in group B).

MAIN RESULTS AND THE ROLE OF CHANCE: Demographic features were evenly distributed between the study groups, as were the relevant fresh and frozen ET cycle characteristics. According to the ITT analysis, the CPR and OPR in group A (33.6% and 27.2%, respectively) and group B (29.3% and 24.4%, respectively) did not vary significantly [relative risk (RR) 0.87, 95% CI (0.60;1.26), P = 0.46 and RR 0.90, 95% CI (0.59;1.37), P = 0.61, respectively]. Biochemical pregnancy rate and early pregnancy loss were also found to be not statistically significantly different between the groups. In contrast, more clinic visits and blood samplings for cycle monitoring were required in the NC-FET group (4.05 ± 1.39) compared with the modified NC-FET group (3.03 ± 1.16, P = <0.001), while the number of ultrasound scans performed were comparable (1.70 ± 0.88 in group A versus 1.62 ± 1.04 in group B). The additional PP analysis was in line with the ITT results: CPR in group A was 36.4% versus 38.1% in group B [RR 1.05, 95% CI (0.70;1.56), P = 0.82].

LIMITATIONS, REASONS FOR CAUTION: The results are limited by the high drop-out rate for the PP analysis in the modified NC-FET group as more than one-third of the subjects allocated to this group ovulated spontaneously before ovulation triggering. Nonetheless, this issue is inherent to routine clinical practice and is an important observation of an event that can only be avoided by performing a very extensive monitoring that limits the practical advantages associated with modified NC-FET. Furthermore, although this is the largest randomized controlled trial (RCT) investigating this specific research question so far, a higher sample size would allow smaller differences in clinical outcome to be detected, since currently they may be left undetected.

WIDER IMPLICATIONS OF THE FINDINGS: This RCT adds new high-quality evidence to the existing controversial literature concerning the performance of NC-FET versus modified NC-FET. Based on our results showing no statistically significant differences in clinical outcomes between the protocols, the treatment choice may be made according to the patient's and treating physician's preferences. However, the modified NC-FET strategy reduces the need for hormonal monitoring and may therefore be considered a more patient-friendly and potentially cost-effective approach.

STUDY FUNDING/COMPETING INTEREST(S): No specific funding was available for this study. None of the authors have a conflict of interest to declare with regard to this study.




Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1073-1081
Number of pages9
JournalHuman Reproduction
Issue number5
Early online date2020
Publication statusPublished - 2020

ID: 51946453