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Egg Freezing in Atlanta, GA
Egg freezing, also known as oocyte cryopreservation, has been around for several decades; however, it was not very successful until recently due to a newer process called "vitrification."
Today, egg freezing offers hope to women in Atlanta, GA, facing some types of cancer and/or cancer treatment that may damage their eggs or destroy ovarian function, as well as those who have not found the right partner or who have delayed having children for various reasons.
In addition, egg freezing offers an option to Atlanta women who have produced extra eggs for an in vitro fertilization (IVF) cycle but don’t want to destroy or donate their unused eggs to research.
Who Is a Good Candidate for Egg Freezing?
There are several different candidates for egg freezing:
- Women diagnosed with cancer who will require chemotherapy or other treatment that could damage the eggs.
- Women with certain non-cancerous disorders who face potential sterility associated with their disease, such as women with benign tumors or endometriosis, women who test positive for the BRCA gene or who have a strong history of ovarian cancer and may want their ovaries removed, or women with autoimmune diseases whose medicine may be toxic to their eggs or may experience premature menopause.
- Women in their late 20s to 40 who do not have a partner or for other personal or medical reasons need to delay childbearing and wish to preserve their chances of having a biologic child.
"The best candidates are women in their late 20s and early 30s, because they are the ones who are going to experience the highest success rates for the procedure," says Daniel B. Shapiro, MD, a fertility doctor with Reproductive Biology Associates (RBA) in Atlanta. "As it is now, the average age of women who are asking for the technique are 37 to 38 years of age, and though it can be successful in women of that age, the chance of success in the future is a lot lower.
"Basically, the more eggs that a woman can freeze and make available at any one time, the more likely those eggs are to work for her in the future," he continues. "But again, at 37 or 38 or above, the chance of getting enough eggs to make this work is probably pretty low."
The American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) does warn that “oocyte cryopreservation … remains an experimental procedure that should not be offered or marketed as a means to defer reproductive aging.” ASRM recommends that women exploring egg freezing should set up consultations at at an Atlanta fertility clinic and ask about treatment options, oocyte freezing methods, success rates and policies about disposing unused eggs.
“Ideally you should be under 35, you should have excellent ovarian reserve, and you should have a complete understanding that egg freezing is an imperfect insurance policy — an insurance policy that hopefully you will never have to use," Dr. Shapiro says. "And even if you do have to use it in the future, there’s a reasonable expectation that it will work, but there’s also a reasonable expectation that it won’t."
The Process of Freezing Your Eggs
To freeze eggs, fertility doctors stimulate a woman’s ovaries to produce a half dozen eggs (more than the regular one egg per cycle), with fertility drugs. Oocyte cryopreservation requires retrieval of the eggs from the ovaries in the same manner as is performed for in vitro fertilization (IVF). Fertility drugs are administered by subcutaneous (under the skin) injections for approximately two weeks to allow the eggs to reach maturity.
The eggs' development is monitored with transvaginal ultrasounds (sonograms) and blood work. When the eggs mature, a final injection medication is given. Thirty-six hours later, the patient receives sedation and the eggs are removed from the ovaries by placing a needle through the vaginal wall into each ovary using ultrasound guidance.
The eggs are then frozen. Vitrification is done by placing an egg or embryo in a small volume of a medium containing the egg cryoprotectant. It is then cooled at an extremely rapid rate, and the vitrified oocyte is stored in liquid nitrogen until it needs to be thawed and utilized.
Success Rates of Freezing Eggs
A woman’s egg quality peaks between 16 to 28 years old during her reproductive prime. Eggs can still be acceptable from age 29 to 38 (the mid-reproductive years), but their quality diminishes greatly from age 39 to 44.
Although embryos (fertilized eggs) and sperm have been successfully frozen and thawed to create healthy babies for several decades, only recently has egg freezing been successful. Previously, the only method that could be used to freeze eggs was a slow-freezing method, which could cause ice crystals to form within the egg. A newer specialized freezing technique called vitrification freezes the egg so quickly that ice crystals don't have time to form.
"Depending on the lab where you go and depending on your expectations for the procedure, it's to the point now where egg freezing for fertility preservation is a viable option for fertility," Dr. Shapiro says.