Egg freezing is a breakthrough technology that allows women to freeze and store their eggs until a pregnancy is desired, at which time the eggs are thawed, fertilized and transferred to the uterus as embryos.
Many women today are feeling the pressure of having to choose between a career and a family. Some are returning to school or pursuing advanced degrees and don’t know when or if they will have children. For many, it may simply be an issue of not having found the right person yet. For all of these women, egg freezing is revolutionary not just in its technology, but in the freedom it can offer in allowing them to postpone childbearing.
Over 50,000 reproductive-aged women are diagnosed with cancer each year in the United States. Surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatments typically lead to infertility by destroying the eggs. While options vary depending on age, type of cancer and cancer-treatment plan, egg freezing can provide these women the opportunity to preserve their fertility.
Finally, egg freezing can be useful for individuals with religious or moral objections to storing frozen embryos. Frequently, in routine IVF, any excess embryos that remain are frozen for future use. However, if they are not to be used, their disposal can create a difficult ethical issue. The ability to freeze unfertilized eggs offers a positive solution for many people.
Unlike sperm and embryo cryopreservation, which have become routine processes in assisted reproductive technology, success with freezing eggs has historically been difficult to achieve. This is because the egg is the largest cell in the human body and contains a considerable amount of water. When eggs are frozen, ice crystals form that can destroy the cell. To prevent this, the egg must be dehydrated prior to freezing. The water is then replaced by a special fluid called a cryoprotectant that inhibits the formation of ice crystals. Because the eggshell hardens when frozen, sperm must be injected with a needle in order to fertilize the egg. This is known as ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection) and is a standard technique also used in IVF. At EFC, eggs are frozen using the vitrification method which is superior to the older slow-freeze method.
It takes approximately four to six weeks to complete the egg freezing cycle, which follows the same protocol as IVF: Two to four weeks of birth control pills to temporarily turn off natural hormones; followed by ten to fourteen days of hormone injections to stimulate the ovaries and ripen multiple eggs; then eggs are then retrieved through the vagina using an ultrasound-guided needle while under anesthesia. Immediately following retrieval, the eggs are frozen. When embryo transfer is desired, the eggs are thawed, injected with a single sperm to achieve fertilization, and then transferred to the uterus as embryos.
At the Egg Freezing Center at Santa Monica Fertility, our frozen egg pregnancy rates are among the highest in the country – 45% with the vitrification method. To date, over 5000 babies have been born worldwide from frozen eggs!