Use of clomiphene citrate or letrozole in in vitro fertilisation treatment

Review question

The aim of this review was to compare treatment with clomiphene citrate (CC) or letrozole (Ltz) versus gonadotropins alone for stimulation of the ovaries during in vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatment.

Background

Gonadotropin hormonal injections are commonly used in an IVF treatment to stimulate the ovaries to produce eggs, which can then be mixed with sperm in the laboratory to create embryos for transfer into the uterus. However, these injections are expensive, inconvenient, and are associated with side effects. Calls for patient-friendly stimulation regimens have led to the use of tablets such as clomiphene or letrozole instead of injections, but it is unclear whether these are associated with similar pregnancy rates.

Study characteristics

We included 27 studies, of which 22 studies with a total of 3599 participants had data suitable for analysis. We studied the general IVF population and those women who had fewer eggs (poor responders) during IVF separately. This is an update of a previous Cochrane Review first published in 2012. The evidence is current to 10 January 2017.

Key results

There was no clear evidence of a difference in live-birth or pregnancy rates between the groups in the general IVF population. Low-quality evidence suggests that for a typical clinic with 23% live-birth rate (LBR) using only gonadotropin hormonal injections, switching to CC or Ltz regimens would be expected to result in LBRs between 15% and 30%.

The risk of ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS) was lower with CC or Ltz use compared to gonadotropins alone. Low-quality evidence suggests that for a typical clinic with 6% prevalence of OHSS associated with a gonadotropin hormonal injection, switching to CC or Ltz regimen would be expected to reduce the incidence to between 0.5% and 2.5%.

Among women designated as poor responders, there was no clear evidence of a difference between the groups in live-birth or pregnancy rates. Low-quality evidence suggests that for a typical clinic with 5% LBRs in poor responders using only gonadotropin hormonal injection, switching to CC or Ltz regimen would be expected to result in LBRs between 2% and 14%. The side effects of these drugs and data on foetal abnormalities following CC or Ltz protocols were poorly reported.

Quality of the evidence

The quality of the evidence for the different comparisons ranged from low to moderate. The main limitations were risk of bias associated with poor reporting of study methods, and imprecision.

Authors' conclusions: 

We found no conclusive evidence indicating that clomiphene citrate or letrozole with or without gonadotropins differed from gonadotropins in GnRH agonist or antagonist protocols with respect to their effects on live-birth or pregnancy rates, either in the general population of women undergoing IVF treatment or in women who were poor responders. Use of clomiphene or letrozole led to a reduction in the amount of gonadotropins required and the incidence of OHSS. However, use of clomiphene citrate or letrozole may be associated with a significant increase in the incidence of cycle cancellations, as well as reductions in the mean number of oocytes retrieved in both the general IVF population and the poor responders. Larger, high-quality randomized trials are needed to reach a firm conclusion before they are adopted into routine clinical practice.

Read the full abstract...
Background: 

Gonadotropins are the most commonly used medications for controlled ovarian stimulation in in vitro fertilisation (IVF). However, they are expensive and invasive, and are associated with the risk of ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS). Recent calls for more patient-friendly regimens have led to growing interest in the use of clomiphene citrate (CC) and aromatase inhibitors with or without gonadotropins to reduce the burden of hormonal injections. It is currently unknown whether regimens using CC or aromatase inhibitors such as letrozole (Ltz) are as effective as gonadotropins alone.

Objectives: 

To determine the effectiveness and safety of regimens including oral induction medication (such as clomiphene citrate or letrozole) versus gonadotropin-only regimens for controlled ovarian stimulation in IVF or intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) treatment.

Search strategy: 

We searched the following databases: Cochrane Gynaecology and Fertility Group Specialised Register (searched January 2017), the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL CRSO), MEDLINE (1946 to January 2017), Embase (1980 to January 2017), and reference lists of relevant articles. We also searched trials registries ClinicalTrials.gov (clinicaltrials.gov/) and the World Health Organization International Clinical Trials Registry Platform (www.who.int/trialsearch/Default.aspx). We handsearched relevant conference proceedings.

Selection criteria: 

We included randomized controlled trials (RCTs). The primary outcomes were live-birth rate (LBR) and OHSS.

Data collection and analysis: 

Three review authors independently assessed trial eligibility and risk of bias. We calculated risk ratios (RR) and Peto odds ratio (OR) with 95% confidence intervals (CIs) for dichotomous outcomes and mean differences (MD) for continuous outcomes. We analyzed the general population of women undergoing IVF treatment and (as a separate analysis) women identified as poor responders. We assessed the overall quality of the evidence using the GRADE approach.

Main results: 

We included 27 studies in the updated review. Most of the new trials in the updated review included poor responders and evaluated Ltz protocols. We could perform meta-analysis with data from 22 studies including a total of 3599 participants. The quality of the evidence for different comparisons ranged from low to moderate. The main limitations in the quality of the evidence were risk of bias associated with poor reporting of study methods, and imprecision.

In the general population of women undergoing IVF, it is unclear whether CC or Ltz used with or without gonadotropins compared to use of gonadotropins along with gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) agonists or antagonists resulted in a difference in live birth (RR 0.92, 95% CI 0.66 to 1.27, 4 RCTs, n = 493, I2 = 0%, low-quality evidence) or clinical pregnancy rate (RR 1.00, 95% CI 0.86 to 1.16, 12 RCTs, n = 1998, I2 = 3%, moderate-quality evidence). This means that for a typical clinic with 23% LBR using a GnRH agonist regimen, switching to CC or Ltz protocols would be expected to result in LBRs between 15% and 30%. Clomiphene citrate or Ltz protocols were associated with a reduction in the incidence of OHSS (Peto OR 0.21, 95% CI 0.11 to 0.41, 5 RCTs, n = 1067, I2 = 0%, low-quality evidence). This means that for a typical clinic with 6% prevalence of OHSS associated with a GnRH regimen, switching to CC or Ltz protocols would be expected to reduce the incidence to between 0.5% and 2.5%. We found evidence of an increase in cycle cancellation rate with the CC protocol compared to gonadotropins in GnRH protocols (RR 1.87, 95% CI 1.43 to 2.45, 9 RCTs, n = 1784, I2 = 61%, low-quality evidence). There was moderate quality evidence of a decrease in the mean number of ampoules used,) and mean number of oocytes collected with CC with or without gonadotropins compared to the gonadotropins in GnRH agonist protocols, though data were too heterogeneous to pool.

Similarly, in the poor-responder population, it is unclear whether there was any difference in rates of live birth (RR 1.16, 95% CI 0.49 to 2.79, 2 RCTs, n = 357, I2 = 38%, low-quality evidence) or clinical pregnancy (RR 0.85, 95% CI 0.64 to 1.12, 8 RCTs, n = 1462, I2 = 0%, low-quality evidence) following CC or Ltz with or without gonadotropin versus gonadotropin and GnRH protocol. This means that for a typical clinic with a 5% LBR in the poor responders using a GnRH protocol, switching to CC or Ltz protocols would be expected to yield LBRs between 2% to 14%. There was low quality evidence that the CC or Ltz protocols were associated with an increase in the cycle cancellation rate (RR 1.46, 95% CI 1.18 to 1.81, 10 RCTs, n = 1601, I2 = 64%) and moderate quality evidence of a decrease in the mean number of gonadotropin ampoules used and the mean number of oocytes collected, though data were too heterogeneous to pool. The adverse effects of these protocols were poorly reported. In addition, data on foetal abnormalities following use of CC or Ltz protocols are lacking.

Share/Save