How Egg Freezing Works

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How Egg Freezing Works: Should You Do It?

Oocyte cryopreservation, or egg freezing, is a hot topic lately in fertility preservation. Women who undergo cancer treatment during their fertile years may lose their fertility from the chemotherapy drugs or from radiation treatment. Egg freezing is one way to help preserve their ability to have a child in the future.

In recent years, women who don’t have cancer but feel they need to delay childbearing have begun to consider egg freezing. Egg freezing is best suited for women under age 38, when there is still significant fertility to be preserved. The age of the woman when an egg is produced is more important than her age when she becomes pregnant. This is why older women who use eggs donated by younger women have high IVF success rates. High-tech companies such as Intel, Facebook and Apple have started offering coverage for egg freezing and other fertility treatments, up to $20,000 or more depending on the company, so their female employees can pursue a demanding career without hearing that fertility clock ticking quite as loudly. Other women pursue egg freezing because they don’t have a partner and want to be ready if Mr. Right comes along when they are older. Is egg freezing right for you? How does it work?

Retrieving the Eggs

The first stage in egg freezing is the same as the first stage in an IVF cycle. You will be given fertility medications to stimulate your ovaries to produce multiple eggs, instead of the one egg a natural menstrual cycle would produce. You will inject these hormones daily as instructed by your fertility specialist. This stage involves visits to the fertility clinic for monitoring, to determine when the eggs are ready for retrieval, usually over a period of about two weeks.

When the eggs are ready, you will be put under mild anesthesia or sedation, and the reproductive endocrinologist will retrieve the eggs. Using ultrasound guidance, a needle goes through the vaginal wall into the ovary and the eggs are gently suctioned out. The cost of egg freezing runs around $10,000 plus the cost of the fertility drugs. Insurance coverage varies greatly from state to state, but in most states egg freezing is an elective procedure and is not covered. Most fertility specialists recommend freezing about 20 eggs, and more than one round of treatment may be needed. If you’re looking to freeze your eggs because you have to undergo chemotherapy for cancer, costs may be lower, and assistance programs are available.

Freezing the Eggs

The eggs are examined in the embryology lab and the best quality ones are frozen. The process, called vitrification, is an ultra-fast method of freezing which helps to prevent ice crystals from forming and damaging the eggs. It results in better survival, fertilization and embryonic growth than earlier methods. The eggs are stored in cryopreservation tanks until they are ready to be used. There is an annual fee of $500 to $1,000 to store them.

Using the Frozen Eggs

If you decide to freeze your eggs, you will have to have IVF treatment when you are ready to use them. This involves thawing the eggs, fertilizing them with sperm using ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection), and growing the embryos that are created for up to 5 days when the best embryo or embryos are chosen for transfer back into the uterus. How long can you wait? Egg freezing is so new that few studies have been done on how long the eggs can be frozen and still be viable. According to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM), the procedure is no longer considered experimental, but ASRM’s study concluded there wasn’t enough data to recommend egg freezing for postponing childbearing. This procedure really is on the cutting edge of fertility treatment, and knowledge will expand rapidly as demand for egg freezing increases.

Is it the right way to stop your fertility clock from ticking? Look at your insurance coverage, what you can afford, what you will be able to afford to spend in the future (because you have to have IVF cycles to use the eggs), and your life circumstances. Look with your head and with your heart to decide.