Egg freezing is a breakthrough technology that allows women to freeze and store their eggs indefinitely. Once a pregnancy is desired, the eggs can be thawed, fertilized and placed within the uterus in order to initiate a pregnancy.
What is the Cryopreservation of Embryos?
Couples who undergo IVF often fertilize multiple eggs at the same time. After an embryo transfer, extra embryos may be cryopreserved (frozen) for future use. Cryopreservation makes future fertility treatment cycles simpler, less expensive, and less invasive than the initial IVF cycle, since a frozen cycle does not require ovarian stimulation or egg retrieval.
Once frozen, embryos may be stored for many years. Couples should decide if they are going to cryopreserve extra embryos before undergoing IVF.
Who Could Benefit from Egg Freezing?
There are several groups of women who are candidates for egg freezing:
- Women who need to undergo chemotherapy or radiation therapy for cancer treatment, in which case freezing may be covered by insurance
- Many of the chemotherapeutic drugs commonly used for cancers are toxic to the ovaries
- Removing eggs from the ovaries prior to starting these treatments allows for the preservation of healthy eggs
- These eggs may be used many years in the future in order to achieve a pregnancy
- Women who require treatment with toxic agents due to auto-immune disease, stem cell transplants or bone marrow transplants, in which case egg freezing may be covered by insurance
- Women who wish to delay the "biological clock"
- Single women
- Women wishing to delay pregnancy for personal and professional reasons
- Couples who are undergoing in vitro fertilization to overcome infertility, but who do not want to fertilize more eggs than they will utilize
- Eggs can then be thawed at some future date when they are ready to further expand their family
How is Egg Freezing Performed?
First, women take a medication called gonadotropin. This medication stimulates the ovaries to produce several eggs. These eggs are then collected from the ovaries using a minor surgical technique known as transvaginal oocyte retrieval. This procedure is performed under light anesthesia, and no incision is required. Eggs are then vitrified-- rapidly cooled and frozen in liquid nitrogen for long-term storage.
What is Vitrification?
Vitrification comes from the Latin meaning "to turn into glass." It is the process by which eggs are rapidly cooled. This prevents the formation of ice crystals within the egg. Ice crystals need to be avoided as they often damage the egg when it is subsequently thawed. The resulting frozen egg looks glass-like, hence the term "vitrification."
Is Egg Freezing Safe?
There is no evidence of an increase in risk to a baby that results from an egg that was previously frozen.
Is Egg Freezing Expensive?
In Illinois, many insurance policies cover fertility treatments. Unfortunately, egg freezing is generally not covered. A typical cycle costs approximately $7000. There are additional fees for medication costs and long-term egg storage fees.
In Illinois, insurance is mandated to provide coverage for fertility preservation services when a necessary medical treatment may directly or indirectly cause iatrogenic infertility. Iatrogenic infertility is a medically induced infertility that can be caused by treatments for cancer, sickle cell anemia, lupus and other autoimmune diseases.
How Long Can Eggs be Frozen?
Once the eggs are frozen, they are essentially in a state of "suspended animation." They do not age. As far as we know, there is no limit to the length of time eggs may remain in storage and still be viable.
When Does a Woman's Fertility Begin to Decline?
Fertility begins to decline in the late 20's. This decline is relatively slow until approximately age 35. By age 38, the rate of fertility loss begins to accelerate, and continues to do so until the mid 40's, when the chance of pregnancy declines significantly.
How Does Egg Freezing "Beat" the Biological Clock?
The risk of birth defects, such as Down's Syndrome, increase as a woman ages. Freezing eggs allows a woman to "put the brakes" on the risk of such birth defects, because frozen eggs are suspended at the age of the woman at the time the eggs were removed and preserved.
While a woman may return years later to use her frozen eggs, there will be no increase in risk to the resulting baby, as these eggs have been "suspended" at that younger age.
Who Can I Talk to About Egg Freezing?
Our board-certified reproductive endocrinologists can help you explore your fertility preservation options, including egg freezing. Schedule an appointment at one of our four Chicago-area clinics today!