What is egg freezing?
Oocyte cryopreservation or, commonly known as, egg freezing, is a process in which a woman’s oocytes (eggs) are extracted from the ovaries, frozen and stored for future use. What was once considered an experimental procedure, is now an established method of fertility preservation. In fact, the American Society of Reproductive Medicine removed the investigational label from egg freezing in 2012. Over the past three decades, scientific advancements in egg freezing and thawing techniques, has provided women the possibility of having biological children in the future.
Who should consider egg banking?
There are a variety of clinical scenarios in which egg freezing can be considered as follows:
- Women with a medical illness or cancer requiring treatments that may impair fertility.
- Women who are at risk of premature ovarian failure due to a genetic predisposition (ie Turner syndrome or Fragile X premutation), or family history of premature menopause.
- Surgery that may damage the ovaries.
- Women with genetic mutations that require removing the ovaries, such as BRCA mutations.
- Elective fertility preservation to delay childbearing.
What is the process of egg freezing?
Women seeking information about egg freezing should consult with a fertility specialist. Fertility hormone labs and a pelvic ultrasound is performed to assess the ovarian reserve and provide women with an estimate of egg yield from a single banking cycle. Although eggs are microscopic, they are contained within follicles which appear as fluid spaces within the ovaries. Women administer injectable hormonal medications over the course of 10-12 days to stimulate the ovaries to develop multiple mature oocytes. Blood tests and ultrasound measurements of the follicles provide information about the maturation of the oocytes. While under light anesthesia, a surgical procedure using vaginal ultrasound is performed to collect the follicular fluid and an embryologist identifies the eggs using a high power microscope. Mature oocytes are then cryopreserved by vitrification, which allows for rapid freezing in liquid nitrogen and storage.
Mature oocytes can be vitrified for years and the viability of frozen eggs is approximately 90% upon thaw. When a woman is ready to use her eggs, they are thawed and fertilized by injecting individual sperm into the eggs using a technique called Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI). The resultant fertilized eggs are cultured to advanced stage embryo(s) which can be transferred into the uterus to achieve a pregnancy. The likelihood of pregnancy will depend largely on the age of the eggs when frozen and the quality of fertility clinic.
How much does egg freezing cost?
The cost of egg freezing varies across the country and by fertility clinic. In general, the costs range from $8,000 – $15,000 per cycle. Depending on the individual plan, some patients may have insurance coverage, although the majority are paying out-of-pocket for the procedure.