19 Feb Egg Preservation: What You Need to Know
Here at Fertility Specialists Medical Group, our team gives an honest, evidence-based view of what the likelihood of live birth with frozen eggs will be — as determined by the individual’s age, egg count and fertility evaluation.
We take this approach as it helps our patients make sound decisions regarding egg freezing. Egg freezing is the process of stimulating the ovaries to produce multiple eggs, then retrieving and freezing them for future use.
This is beneficial for those who wish to delay pregnancy for personal reasons — transgender individuals who would like to preserve eggs prior to initiation of hormone treatments, those about to undergo fertility-damaging cancer treatments, and others including:
- Career-focused. Some individuals may wish to delay pregnancy to focus on their careers. Egg freezing offers an opportunity to preserve the eggs when they are available in larger numbers and likely are of better quality, which is when an individual is at a younger age, to then be used later.
- Relationship reasons. People may want to delay pregnancy until they find the right partner, but want to preserve their eggs when they are younger.
- Transgender and transitioning. Egg freezing is an option for individuals who are transitioning and would like to preserve their eggs for future use.
- Ethical or religious concerns. Some individuals undergoing IVF may not want to create more embryos than can be used for pregnancy. In order to avoid this, eggs can be retrieved and frozen, then utilized in smaller numbers to limit the creation of excess embryos.
What is Egg Preservation?
Egg freezing, or mature oocyte cryopreservation, utilizes advanced technology to freeze and store unfertilized eggs. While the first live birth from a frozen egg was reported in 1986, it was not until late 2012 that the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) announced egg freezing was no longer considered an “experimental” process, thereby becoming a routinely offered option for individuals.
Sperm freezing has been in wide use for many years, due to their small size, relative simplicity in terms of structure, and minimal fluid content. But due to the large size and water content of the human egg, cryopreservation has been a difficult process to perfect, as ice crystals form that can damage the egg. Technological advancements in the freezing/thawing process, particularly the process of vitrification for freezing, which significantly reduces the chances of ice crystal formation have increased the chances of success with frozen eggs.
What is the Egg Freezing Process?
The patient will take an ovulation-inducing medication for 10 to 12 days to stimulate the ovaries to produce multiple eggs for retrieval.
During this time, we monitor blood levels as well as perform ultrasound monitoring to ensure the appropriate response to the medication is occurring. The mature eggs are then retrieved, with the woman or transgender man under mild anesthesia. This is an outpatient procedure, which usually lasts less than 30 minutes.
Eggs are then flash-frozen through a process known as vitrification. The eggs are bathed in a cryoprotectant and rapidly cooled to -320 degrees Fahrenheit in liquid nitrogen. This process suspends biological activity until the eggs are thawed.
When the individual is ready to begin the next part of fertility treatment, the frozen egg(s) are thawed by an embryologist and, typically, fertilized through an IVF technique known as intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI). This process optimizes the chances of fertilization as it injects a single sperm directly into the cytoplasm of the egg where fertilization occurs.
The fertilized egg, or embryo(s), is then held in incubators for about 5 days. At that point, embryos can be transferred into the patient’s uterus or frozen for future use.
Get Started with Egg Freezing
Before beginning egg cryopreservation, a fertility specialist may recommend testing the ovarian reserve, which never increases but continually decreases. This test can help determine the quantity of eggs that are accessible in any given cycle for retrieval. The results of these tests can also help the physician understand how the person may respond to the stimulation medications. All of these factors, along with age, can help you and your doctor to understand the likelihood of a live birth from the process of egg cryopreservation.