The prime window for a woman to conceive a child is between the ages of 20 and 34, but there is an option for women who feel their biological clocks are running out of time: egg freezing.
Traditional Egg Freezing
Egg freezing allows women to freeze and store their eggs until they want to become pregnant. At that time, the eggs are thawed, fertilized and transferred to the uterus as embryos.
More than 50,000 reproductive-aged women are diagnosed with cancer each year in the United States. Surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatments typically lead to infertility by destroying the eggs. While options vary depending on age, type of cancer and cancer treatment plan, egg freezing can provide these women the opportunity to preserve their fertility. Egg freezing also can be beneficial for individuals with religious or moral objections to storing frozen embryos that remain following a routine IVF cycle.
It takes approximately four to six weeks to complete the egg freezing cycle, which follows the same protocol as IVF. This includes birth control pills and self-administered hormone injections to stimulate the ovaries. Eggs are retrieved and frozen immediately following retrieval. When the patient is ready for embryo transfer, the eggs are thawed, injected with a single sperm to achieve fertilization, and transferred to the uterus as embryos.
At least 10 eggs are usually extracted for each pregnancy attempt. Specialists will harvest ten to twenty eggs per cycle in women under the age of 38.
The rate of birth defects and chromosomal defects from egg freezing births are no higher than the rest of the population.
Although the success of this technology is exciting, patients should consider the process carefully, as it is still classified as an experimental technique by the American Society of Reproductive Medicine (ASRM). The procedure must be conducted under a research protocol, meaning that they are overseen and monitored by an ethics board.
For best results, egg freezing is recommended for women under the age of 40.
Vitrification, a breakthrough in egg freezing may help millions of women by dramatically increasing conception rates. Vitrification involves dehydrating the egg during the freezing process, thereby minimizing the formation of ice crystals and protecting the integrity of the cell. During the thawing process, the egg is rehydrated, revealing a virtually undamaged embryo.
Reproductive endocrinologist and infertility specialist Dr. Millie Behera explains the difference between vitrification and egg-freezing processes of the past.
“A woman’s eggs are the largest cell in her body, and have a lot of water content, making them fragile,” Dr. Behera explains. “Since they are delicate structures, [the traditional method of] freezing and thawing them can cause damage.”
Dr. Behera recommends pursuing this process before the age of 37, as eggs are still in their younger stages.