Egg freezing, also known as oocyte cryopreservation, is a groundbreaking method for women to preserve their reproductive potential. The process quickly has become the most popular form of fertility preservation in the United States.
Since initially attempted in the 1980s, the methods and success rates of egg freezing have improved dramatically. In fact, egg freezing success rates are now believed to be similar to the success rates of IVF with fresh (non-frozen) eggs. As more studies have confirmed the safety and efficacy of egg freezing, the American Society of Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) has declared that oocyte cryopreservation is no longer an experimental process.
Who is a good candidate for egg freezing?
Age-related fertility preservation in Los Angeles, CA
Many people are now delaying childbearing for social, personal and economic reasons. Some have not yet found “Mr. or Mrs. Right.” Others are not ready to have children while they are still enjoying their youth. Some are focused on their professional careers and choose to delay building their families until their work life is settled. For all these reasons and many more, oocyte cryopreservation provides a way to maintain the opportunity to have children until the time is right.
Time is important in terms of having children because fertility potential declines as both women and men age. The decline in women’s reproductive potential begins in the 30s and accelerates further and more rapidly after the age of 40. The decline in the fertility potential of men usually begins after the age of 40. We also know that as a woman ages, there is a decline in the number and quality of eggs in her ovaries. At the same time, there is a significant increase in the number of eggs that are not genetically “normal.” In fact, one of the biggest limitations to having children as women and men age is not only the decline in fertility, but the significant increase in the miscarriage rate due to chromosomal abnormalities.
Egg freezing allows women to preserve their fertility at a younger age, effectively stopping their “biological clock.” The decision to pursue egg freezing can provide a woman with the opportunity to understand her fertility potential and empower her to make informed choices about motherhood in the future.
Women who are exposed to chemotherapy and or radiation
With current improvements in oncologic (cancer) medicine, the number of women who are diagnosed, treated and cured of cancer in their reproductive years is increasing. In fact, more than 100,000 cancer patients are diagnosed in their reproductive years, including 11,000 breast cancer patients diagnosed under the age of 40 and 21% of all gynecologic cancer patients diagnosed under the age of 45.
Chemotherapeutic agents and radiation therapy are lifesaving mainstays in the treatment of cancer. Unfortunately, these agents can be toxic to a woman’s eggs and may cause her to go into early and irreversible menopause. Studies have shown that one of the biggest concerns of women who are diagnosed with cancer is their ability to have children later on in life. Egg freezing brings new hope for these women.
One of the first reasons egg freezing was developed was to help women without children who were diagnosed with cancer to preserve their fertility. The American Society of Clinical Oncology stated in 2006 that “physicians treating cancer patients should discuss fertility preservation options prior to the initiation of treatment.”
Fertility preservation in cancer patients requires an extra level of knowledge and safety. The egg freezing cycle or other fertility preservation treatments need to be started immediately to avoid any delay in the start of the chemo or radiation therapy. As a result, there are specialized treatment protocols for cancer patients that use different timelines and medications.
Women with medical conditions that can affect their fertility or cause early menopause.
Genetic conditions such as Fragile X syndrome or BRCA mutation can either cause early menopause or require the removal of reproductive organs in order to prevent cancer. Further, some medical conditions such as Lupus (SLE) or Rheumatoid Arthritis can place a woman at risk of early menopause due to the condition itself, or due to the medications that are used to treat the condition.
Early menopause, which is defined as menopause before the age of 40, can be also caused by familial conditions. Women have a higher risk of developing early menopause or premature ovarian failure when one of their close relatives, such as a mother or sister, has a history of early menopause. For those women with a strong family history of early menopause, egg freezing can represent a viable option to preserve their fertility. A simple blood test measuring the Anti-Mullerian Hormone (AMH) level can help determine a patient’s ovarian function and reserve. The AMH can help to identify women who may be at risk for diminished ovarian reserve. It is also used to assess a woman’s likely response to ovarian stimulation as part of an IVF cycle. Dr. Winkler and Dr. Kalan, at the Los Angele Reproductive Center are experts in the interpretation of ovarian reserve tests and can answer your questions about your fertility potential.
Egg Freezing for Ethical or Religious Reasons
The number of embryos created during an IVF cycle depends upon the number of eggs produced by the female partner. For some couples, especially those with specific religious or ideological beliefs, too many embryos may be created, forcing them to choose between having more children than intended or discard extra embryos.
Egg freezing allows a couple to choose the number of eggs they want fertilized without “wasting” any extra eggs. In this way, patients can still benefit from IVF without having frozen, left-over embryos.
If you have questions about egg freezing or fertility preservation, contact one of our fertility specialists, Dr. Marc Kalan or Dr. Nurit Winkler. Our doctors will be happy to answer your questions and help guide you on the path to fertility preservation.