Sometimes, science can offer an alternate route to creating a family. No matter what happens in a woman’s life, oocyte cryopreservation, more commonly known as egg freezing, offers a once-unimaginable reprieve. Fertility preservation is now a viable option for women to halt the biological clock.
Egg freezing, which is similar to In Vitro Fertilization (IVF), has been around for decades, “but the field of oocyte cryopreservation languished for twenty years following the first successful pregnancy using the method in 1986,” said Dr. Tim Yeko, with The Reproductive Medicine Group. “Today, with the advances in oocyte freezing, it is now practical to freeze eggs for future use in women with expectations for pregnancy equaling to those using fresh eggs.” Oocyte cryopreservation requires removal of the eggs from the ovaries in the same manner as In Vitro Fertilization (IVF).
Fertility medications are used to stimulate the development of multiple eggs within the ovaries. The injections are administered for approximately 2 weeks to allow the eggs to reach maturity. Transvaginal ultrasounds (sonograms) and blood work assess the development of the eggs. When tests reveal that a reasonable number of eggs are likely to be mature, a final injection medication is given. Then, 36 hours later, while the patient is completely sedated, the eggs are removed from the ovaries using an ultrasound-guided needle placed through the vaginal wall. Once retrieved and frozen, eggs are stored in specialized tanks of liquid nitrogen. When a woman decides she’d like to use her frozen eggs, they’re thawed, fertilized with sperm, and transferred into her womb.
Egg freezing, originally developed as a way to preserve the fertility of cancer patients undergoing possibly sterilizing chemotherapy, has been available in the U.S. for over a decade but has only recently entered the mainstream. Last year, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine removed the procedure’s experimental label, citing improved success rates with a new flash-freezing technology known as vitrification.
Several trials have shown little difference in in-vitro-fertilization success rates using frozen rather than fresh eggs. That rate is 30% to 50% per try, depending on the age of eggs and expertise of the doctor. Despite early fears of how freezing could damage eggs’ chromosomes, a recent review of 900 babies born from frozen eggs found they had no more risk of birth defects than those conceived naturally.
“Our embryologists have over 50 years of combined experience including over a decade of vitrifying embryos and oocytes,” added Dr. Yeko.
The Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology only recently starting collecting data on egg freezing, but doctors are reporting patient interest has increased. Even celebrities are helping bring attention to egg freezing. In the NBC hit series “Modern Family” Gloria Pritchett, played by actress Sofia Vergara, announced she had frozen her eggs. Like her television character, Vergara, who is 40, recently announced during an interview she had frozen her eggs.
Another benefit of egg freezing technology: If a woman’s frozen eggs don’t survive thawing or fertilization or fail to grow into healthy embryos, she can use frozen eggs from a donor. She can then have the egg injected with her partners’ sperm, then have the resulting embryos transferred to her womb, and they can deliver their baby.
The cost of egg freezing is similar to the cost of an IVF cycle. Generally, an annual fee is charged for storage of the frozen eggs after the first year. Intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) is required to fertilize the thawed oocytes.
The Reproduction Medicine Group also offers Sperm cryopreservation, where sperm can be frozen and stored at the North Tampa location short term, or shipped to a long term facility for later use. Embryo cryopreservation is available for couples undergoing In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) who produce more embryos than would be appropriate to transfer into the uterus at the time of the fresh cycle or for women who are anticipating chemotherapy, radiation or surgical removal of the ovaries and have a male partner or wish to use donor sperm.
If you are interested in egg freezing or other procedures mentioned in our “Believe Conceive” Blog, please call The Reproductive Medicine Group at 813.914.7304. Also, join our community on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ReproductiveMedicineGroup or on Twitter @ReproMedGroup or Pinterest at www.pinterest.com/rmgfertility.