Fertility Chronicles is proud to present a special blog series, “From the Fertility Experts,” where leading fertility experts answer commonly asked questions for patients about their fertility health and treatment options. We hope this series can help patients navigate their personal fertility journeys.—Catherine T. Yang, Editor, Fertility Chronicles
Univfy’s “Fertility Chronicles” guest blogger Dr. Mark Surrey shares his advice on egg freezing:
Can modern science help women defeat their biological clock? Recent advances in egg freezing are a big step in that direction, helping women time-shift child-bearing more easily. Through egg freezing, women can harvest and freeze their eggs while they’re still young and then thaw and fertilize them for a pregnancy later in life.
Late last year, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) issued a report stating that egg freezing is no longer considered experimental technology. ASRM found that improved techniques for freezing and thawing a woman’s eggs lead to pregnancy rates comparable to those with in vitro fertilization using fresh eggs. Though ASRM isn’t ready yet to recommend widespread use of egg freezing, the technique presents a promising option for women who want to postpone pregnancy and to preserve their fertility in the meantime.
With egg freezing, also known as oocyte cryopreservation, a woman is given hormones to stimulate egg production. The eggs are removed from her ovaries and frozen for storage and then thawed and injected with sperm when she wants to get pregnant.
The challenge has been maintaining the viability of the eggs during and after freezing. In the past, the freezing technique caused the water inside the eggs to form ice crystals, damaging the egg. The outer layer of the egg also often hardened, making it more difficult to inject with sperm later.
A new technique, called vitrification, cuts down on ice crystal formation. The technique dehydrates the egg before freezing and then rehydrates it after thawing, helping to avoid ice crystals. A new sperm injection technique has also made the process more effective.
Today, egg survival rates after thawing are as high as 90%, and fertilization rates, as high as 80%. Pregnancy rates from frozen eggs can be as high as 35% for each embryo transfer. About 200 babies around the world have been born from frozen eggs.
Experts recommend that you freeze your eggs while you are in your 20s or your early 30s, because as women age, the supply of eggs dwindles and becomes less viable. So, if you’re under 35 and think you won’t be ready to get pregnant till after 35, you may want to consider egg freezing. Perhaps your career isn’t yet established, you haven’t found the right partner, or you have a family history of premature menopause. Women diagnosed with cancer may also want to consider egg freezing if they want to get pregnant after treatment.
As you consider this option, weigh the cost versus the benefit. Egg freezing costs about $10,000 for fertility drugs, egg extraction, and egg storage, and for thawing, about $5,000. Fertility experts say there’s no guarantee of a pregnancy down the road, because the eggs are frozen without being fertilized first. That means that you can’t be certain of the quality of the eggs and that a sufficient number will be fertilized and develop into viable embryos that can implant and lead to live births.
Still, for many women, a new way to beat the biological clock is a welcome option worth exploring.