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Egg freezing, also known as oocyte cryopreservation, is a great advancement in technology allowing women to preserve their fertility and extend their biological clock.
The Process of Freezing Your Eggs
To freeze eggs, fertility doctors stimulate a woman’s ovaries with fertility drugs to produce multiple eggs (more than the regular one egg per cycle), . Eggs are retrieved in the same manner as is performed for in vitro fertilization (IVF). Fertility doctors then retrieve these eggs from the ovaries and freeze them for later use.
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 37 (the mid-reproductive years), but their quality diminishes greatly from age 37 to 44.
The cost of oocyte cryopreservation is similar to the cost of an IVF cycle. Generally, an annual fee is charged for storage of the cryopreserved oocytes after the first year, and intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) is required to fertilize the thawed oocytes.
Who Is a Good Candidate for Egg Freezing?
Today, egg freezing is not only an option for those with a medical need, but also for those looking to egg freezing for social reasons. In addition, egg freezing offers an option to 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. Frozen eggs can also be thawed and used in gestational surrogacy.
There are several different candidates for egg freezing:
- Women ages 21 to 42 who do not have a partner or for other personal or medical reasons need to delay child bearing and wish to preserve their chances of having a biological child.
- 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, for example, removal of both ovaries performed to treat a benign tumor or conditions such as endometriosis. In addition, women who test positive for the BRCA gene or who have a strong family history of ovarian cancer may elect to undergo prophylactic removal of the ovaries, and women with autoimmune diseases may be exposed to medications that are toxic to the oocyte or may experience premature (early) menopause.
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 a fertility clinic and ask about treatment options, oocyte freezing methods, success rates and policies about disposing unused eggs.