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Egg or Embryo Freezing for Fertility Preservation


a blog by Laurence A. Jacobs, M.D., Fertility Centers of Illinois, July 5, 2011

To read more of Dr. Laurence Jacob's Fertility Protocol blogs, CLICK HERE.

Female patients newly diagnosed with cancer face tremendous fear and emotional stress. They frequently have to make many important decisions regarding upcoming cancer treatment options in a relatively short period of time. Some have concerns over the potential negative impact of radiation or chemotherapy on their future fertility, while others may be completely unaware of their fertility preservation options.

Awareness of Fertility Preservation Is the Key

Awareness of fertility preservation options prior to cancer treatment is extremely important for the general public and oncologists. Radiation treatments and/or chemotherapy can usually damage eggs and lead to infertility.

Prior to cancer treatment, freezing of eggs (egg vitrification) or embryos created with the sperm of an anonymous donor or of a woman's partner (embryo vitrification) gives a woman the ability to have her own genetic child in the future.

What Is Vitrification?

For the past several decades, sperm and embryo freezing has been available and quite successful, whereas ‘standard conventional’ oocyte (egg) freezing has been very disappointing due to the development of ice crystals in the eggs during the freezing process. The newer methodology — vitrification — solves the problem of ice crystal formation.

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 compared to older, standard freezing techniques. The extremely rapid rate of freezing eliminates ice crystal formation in eggs and embryos. The vitrified oocyte or embryo is then stored in liquid nitrogen until such time that it needs to be thawed and utilized.

Egg vitrification is a relatively new technology and should still be considered experimental according to the American Society of Reproductive Medicine. If a woman undergoing fertility preservation has a male partner, or if she is willing to use donor sperm, it is best to fertilize the eggs and utilize embryo vitrification since this technology has been used successfully for a longer period of time. It is important to note that there can be no guarantee that when the eggs or embryos are thawed, they will remain viable and be able to achieve a pregnancy and/or a healthy baby.

Time Is of the Essence

Any woman desiring to do fertility preservation must get medical clearance from her oncologist, giving her permission to use injectable fertility drugs as well as undergo the egg retrieval technique.

Expedited in vitro fertilization (IVF) must be performed in order to obtain eggs and/or embryos for future use. IVF allows a woman who has an adequate response to ovarian stimulation drugs the chance to undergo egg retrieval and remove viable eggs, which can either be vitrified immediately and/or fertilized, then vitrified as embryos.

At my Chicago fertility clinic, we offer expedited, targeted "infertility care" at a discounted rate for egg or embryo vitrification prior to cancer treatment. Whenever we are contacted by a woman interested in fertility preservation prior to cancer treatment, we get her in very quickly — within a matter of days. The process is streamlined, since time is of the essence, and we don’t want to delay her cancer treatment.

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