Egg freezing at a glance
- Mature egg or oocyte cryopreservation is a method to preserve the reproductive potential in women of reproductive age.
- The collection of eggs occurs in a fertility center using methods in common with in vitro fertilization (IVF) procedures, then the eggs are frozen and stored for use in the future.
- A woman’s eggs decline in quality and number with age so freezing them early in her reproductive years preserves egg viability for use in the future.
- Women may also consider egg freezing as an option for future fertility because of pending cancer treatments or other medical conditions that affect egg quality.
- A woman may freeze eggs in preparation for family building in the future because she is not yet ready to become a mother.
- Egg freezing also simplifies the egg donation process by eliminating the need to coordinate cycles and provide more flexibility in timing procedures.
What is egg freezing?
Mature egg freezing refers to a cooling process to below zero temperatures to stop all biologic activity and preserve the eggs for use in the future. Vitrification is the cooling process used for egg freezing by the Loma Linda University Center for Fertility and IVF. Vitrification uses high initial concentrations of cryoprotectants and ultra-rapid cooling to solidify the egg into a glass-like state.
Ice formation does not occur with vitrification. This method is used quite successfully to preserve oocytes and embryos. The fertilization and pregnancy rates are similar to IVF/ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection) with fresh oocytes when vitrified/warmed oocytes are used for IVF/ICSI in young women.
The process to obtain the eggs for freezing requires stimulation of the ovaries with fertility medications to increase the ovaries’ production of eggs. Fertility medications are taken for about 8-12 days. The egg retrieval process is the same as in IVF treatment.
A large number of eggs stored frozen will improve the chance for a successful pregnancy in the future. Women are encouraged to undergo several treatment cycles to obtain sufficient numbers of eggs.
Eggs frozen at the Loma Linda University Center for Fertility are then stored in our cryopreservation center until a woman elects to use or discard them.
How much does egg freezing cost?
Currently, the cost of an egg retrieval at LLU Center for Fertility is around $6,000. Patients must also pay for fertility medications before the egg retrieval. This expense varies from person to person, depending on the age of a woman, which affects the quality of her eggs, and other factors.
There is no additional charge to store frozen eggs at our cryopreservation center for the first year. After that, storage charges are approximately $400 per year. This cost is incurred solely by the patient because insurance companies do not offer cryopreservation storage benefits.
Who should consider egg freezing?
Although freezing eggs does not guarantee future reproduction, many women consider egg freezing to be an “insurance policy” against future infertility.
A woman may also decide to freeze eggs due to lifestyle, social or career choices. Some women have careers associated with high health hazards such as military, law enforcement and fire prevention. The choice to freeze eggs in these and other situations leaves open an opportunity for reproduction in spite of unforeseen hardships.
Some women wish to delay child bearing because they are not ready for motherhood according to nature’s biological clock, or because they have not found an ideal partner. Egg freezing extends the reproductive potential and takes the pressure off finding an ideal partner.
Young women diagnosed with cancer may choose to freeze eggs for an option to reproduce after cancer treatment is completed. Chemotherapy and radiation tend to damage reproductive cells while killing the cancerous cells. After an initial appointment at the Loma Linda University Center for Fertility, an egg freezing cycle can be scheduled within several weeks so that cancer treatments are not delayed.
Risks of egg freezing
Current studies indicate that egg freezing is a safe process with no increase in chromosome abnormalities, birth defects and developmental deficits in children born from cryopreserved oocytes when compared to pregnancies from conventional IVF/ICSI and the general population.
Since egg freezing requires ovarian stimulation and egg retrieval, it carries the same risks as IVF treatment, which includes a remote possibility of allergic reactions to medications used to stimulate egg production. There may be slight, temporary discomfort or bloating after the procedure
Egg freezing does not guarantee future reproduction and biological factors affecting egg quality, such as advanced age, remain. Not all eggs retrieved are suitable for freezing or remain viable after thawing.
Benefits of egg freezing
The primary benefit of egg freezing is to provide an option for reproduction at a time when a woman is ready to build a family or serious health issues have been resolved.
Egg freezing extends the reproductive potential for women wanting to delay pregnancy and childbirth until late in their reproductive years. There may be no time limit over which the egg will remain viable but a definitive answer to this question is not known.