Egg freezing facts
- Women may choose to freeze their eggs for use at a later time for social reasons such as delaying motherhood for a career, or for medical reasons such as undergoing cancer treatments that may harm their eggs.
- A woman can freeze her eggs to preserve fertility – the quality and quantity of a woman’s eggs deteriorate with age, so freezing eggs at a younger age means they will likely be of good quality when needed at a more advanced age.
- When a woman’s eggs are frozen, the process suspends their biologic activity. The frozen eggs are stored in a cryopreservation system in our lab or in an egg banking facility.
- Egg freezing uses the same egg-retrieval process as in vitro fertilization (IVF); the eggs are later thawed, fertilized and a resulting embryo(s) is implanted in the woman’s uterus for pregnancy.
What is egg freezing for fertility preservation?
Egg freezing is a fertility preservation method where mature, unfertilized eggs are retrieved from a woman’s ovaries after ovarian stimulation (the first step of IVF). The eggs are then cryopreserved, which involves freezing and storing them in a cryotank until the woman wishes to use them to conceive through fertility treatment.
Advances in freezing techniques have led to the medical community accepting egg freezing (or oocyte cryopreservation). The American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) declared it was no longer an experimental procedure in 2012.
Previously, only sperm and embryos (fertilized eggs) could be effectively frozen. Eggs contain more water than sperm or embryos, so ice crystals would form when using traditional freezing techniques. These ice crystals made eggs more fragile and prone to fracture during thawing.
However, a new technique known as vitrification, or rapid freezing, solved this problem. In addition to vitrification advancements, new techniques in IVF and methods used by embryologists in thawing eggs have increased the success of the process.
Age, infertility and egg freezing
Age can play a large role in a woman’s choice to freeze her eggs. Because female fertility declines over time, fertility specialists recommend women consider freezing their eggs when they are in their 20s or early 30s, if they know they want to preserve their fertility for the future. Those are the prime reproductive years and the time when egg quality and quantity are at their peak.
Some women may be able to freeze their eggs after their early 30s. However, egg freezing experts first recommend women in their mid-30s or 40s undergo ovarian reserve testing to get an estimate of how many eggs are left in their ovaries. Egg quality decreases as a woman’s age increases, but unfortunately, there is no test available for egg quality.
Testing can also give a woman and her physician a sense of how her body will respond to ovarian stimulation medications that are part of the egg freezing process.
Is egg freezing right for me?
The Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology reports that egg freezing continues to grow in popularity. A woman might choose to freeze her eggs for medical reasons or want to hold off on having children for what are called social reasons (such as a career or waiting to find the right partner). Our fertility doctors discuss with each woman the decision to freeze her eggs. We advise that egg freezing may be a good option for the following reasons.
Medical reasons for egg freezing
- Some medications can diminish ovarian function, reducing a woman’s ability to achieve pregnancy without fertility treatments.
- A woman might also be a good candidate for egg freezing if she has a family history of early menopause or ovarian cancer.
- Women who have been diagnosed with cancer and wish to have children in the future should consult with a fertility specialist, as cancer treatments such as radiation therapy and chemotherapy can cause infertility. Freezing eggs before undergoing cancer treatments, which is called oncofertility, may preserve a woman’s opportunity to become a mother in the future.
- Women facing gynecologic surgery that can cause infertility.
- Having an autoimmune disease or other conditions that harm fertility over time.
- Those with diminished ovarian reserve (few eggs and poor-quality eggs).
Social reasons for fertility preservation by freezing eggs
- Oftentimes the demands of a career will interfere with the time needed for parenting a child. Egg freezing allows women to delay pregnancy until their careers are well established.
- Many single women in their 20s and beyond also choose to freeze their eggs so they’ll be able to start their family when they meet the right partner, or they may use them if facing diminished ovarian reserve or advanced maternal age when ready for additional children.
- Pursuing higher education is another reason women may delay having a family.
- A woman may simply not be ready for motherhood yet but want to ensure the ability to have children later in life.
- A transgender man who doesn’t wish to be pregnant but does want genetically related children in the future.
Common questions about egg freezing
What are the risks?
Egg retrieval and freezing does present certain risks including surgical complications (scarring, bleeding, etc.), emotional effects from ovulation induction medications and ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS). Risk of any significant complications with the egg freezing process is rare.
What are the success rates?
Egg freezing results in pregnancy in an average of about 55% of cases. Many studies have also discovered that frozen eggs produce pregnancies at a comparable rate to eggs that have never been frozen.
How long can the eggs stay frozen and still be viable?
Although most women will choose to store their eggs for anywhere from six months to 10 years, frozen egg storage can keep eggs safe and secure indefinitely.
The egg cryopreservation process and IVF
The first step in egg freezing is ovarian stimulation. This involves taking fertility medications to stimulate the ovaries to produce multiple eggs. The goal of egg freezing is to freeze as many eggs as safely possible. However, the number of eggs a woman should freeze varies depending on her age.
A fertility specialist monitors the woman’s egg development and then determines when the ovaries are ready for egg retrieval.
Egg retrieval & cryopreservation
The next step is egg retrieval. The eggs are collected during an in-office procedure and prepared for cryopreservation. The woman is mildly sedated during the retrieval.
The eggs are then frozen using vitrification, or rapid freezing, and stored. Temporary storage is located on-site for eggs that will be used within six months. Eggs in this type of storage remain in a cryotank of liquid nitrogen at -321° F within the state-of-the-art IVF lab protected by backup generators and monitored 24/7 by experienced embryologists.
Eggs that are to remain frozen longer than six months will be transferred to a trusted long-term storage facility where they can remain safely frozen indefinitely.
Using frozen eggs
When a woman decides she is ready to use her eggs, the IVF lab will thaw them to use in IVF. At this point, the eggs are combined with sperm from the woman’s partner or her chosen donor for fertilization, creating embryos.
The most viable (healthy) embryo or embryos will then be transferred into the woman’s uterus and the woman will be monitored for pregnancy.
Elective single embryo transfer (eSET)
Although multiple embryos have been routinely transferred at once in the past, elective single embryo transfer (eSET) is the new standard in IVF. eSET is the transfer of just one IVF embryo into the mother’s uterus, even when additional healthy embryos are available. This practice helps achieve the healthy birth of a single baby instead of a multiple pregnancy with twins or more, which may lead to health concerns for mother and babies.
Egg freezing demystified
Women are empowered to take control of their reproductive health through egg freezing. Part of the journey to empowerment is education. To help demystify the egg freezing process, Dallas IVF’s Dr. Sara Mucowski shares the story of her personal egg freezing journey.
Financing egg freezing costs
The cost of egg freezing includes the cost of fertility treatments and is broken down into three main steps:
- Ovarian stimulation.
- Egg retrieval.
- Egg freezing and storage.