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Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012 Jul 11;(7):CD002118. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD002118.pub4.

Cleavage stage versus blastocyst stage embryo transfer in assisted reproductive technology.

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Reproductive Medicine, CEGYR (Centro de Estudios en Ginecologia y Reproduccion), Buenos Aires, Argentina.



Advances in cell culture media have led to a shift in in vitro fertilization (IVF) practice from early cleavage embryo transfer to blastocyst stage transfer. The rationale for blastocyst culture is to improve both uterine and embryonic synchronicity and enable self selection of viable embryos thus resulting in higher implantation rates.


To determine if blastocyst stage (Day 5 to 6) embryo transfers (ETs) improve live birth rate and other associated outcomes compared with cleavage stage (Day 2 to 3) ETs.


Cochrane Menstrual Disorders and Subfertility Group Specialised Register of controlled trials, Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) (The Cochrane Library), MEDLINE, EMBASE and Bio extracts. The last search date was 21 February 2012.


Trials were included if they were randomised and compared the effectiveness of early cleavage versus blastocyst stage transfers.


Of the 50 trials that were identified, 23 randomised controlled trials (RCTs) met the inclusion criteria and were reviewed (five new studies were added in this update). The primary outcome was rate of live birth. Secondary outcomes were rates per couple of clinical pregnancy, cumulative clinical pregnancy, multiple pregnancy, high order pregnancy, miscarriage, failure to transfer embryos and cryopreservation. Quality assessment, data extraction and meta-analysis were performed following Cochrane guidelines.


Twelve RCTs reported live birth rates and there was evidence of a significant difference in live birth rate per couple favouring blastocyst culture (1510 women, Peto OR 1.40, 95% CI 1.13 to 1.74) (Day 2 to 3: 31%; Day 5 to 6: 38.8%, I(2) = 40%). This means that for a typical rate of 31% in clinics that use early cleavage stage cycles, the rate of live births would increase to 32% to 42% if clinics used blastocyst transfer.There was no difference in clinical pregnancy rate between early cleavage and blastocyst transfer in the 23 RCTs (Peto OR 1.14, 95% CI 0.99 to 1.32) (Day 2 to 3: 38.6%; Day 5 to 6: 41.6%) and no difference in miscarriage rate (13 RCTs, Peto OR 1.18, 95% CI 0.86 to 1.60). The four RCTs that reported cumulative pregnancy rates (266 women, Peto OR 1.58, 95% CI 1.11 to 2.25) (Day 2 to 3: 56.8%; Day 5 to 6: 46.3%) significantly favoured early cleavage. Embryo freezing rates (11 RCTs, 1729 women, Peto OR 2.88, 95% CI 2.35 to 3.51) and failure to transfer embryos (16 RCTs, 2459 women, OR 0.35, 95% CI 0.24 to 0.51) (Day 2 to 3: 3.4%; Day 5 to 6: 8.9%) favoured cleavage stage transfer.


This review provides evidence that there is a small significant difference in live birth rates in favour of blastocyst transfer (Day 5 to 6) compared to cleavage stage transfer (Day 2 to 3). However, cumulative clinical pregnancy rates from cleavage stage (derived from fresh and thaw cycles) resulted in higher clinical pregnancy rates than from blastocyst cycles. The most likely explanation for this is the higher rates of frozen embryos and lower failure to transfer rates per couple obtained from cleavage stage protocols. Future RCTs should report miscarriage, live birth and cumulative live birth rates to enable ART consumers and service providers to make well informed decisions on the best treatment option available.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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