Social egg freezing, more formally known as oocyte cryopreservation, is becoming more prevalent around the world. In 2012, leading reproductive institutions, including the American Society for Reproductive Medicine and the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology, announced that social egg freezing would no longer be viewed as experimental, launching this practice into the media and into the hands of more people seeking to improve or extend their fertility.
What are the potential benefits of social egg freezing?
Social egg freezing allows women the potential to become a genetic parent at a time in life when they otherwise may not be able to do so. It also reduces the likelihood of having children who suffer chromosomal abnormalities associated with pregnancy during advanced maternal age or after undergoing procedures, such as chemotherapy.
How does it work?
When a woman decides she wants to freeze her eggs, she will begin the process by taking hormones that stimulate the ovaries to produce eggs. She will then undergo a minimally invasive procedure, performed with local anesthesia, in which the eggs are retrieved. The eggs will subsequently be frozen and stored. Though freezing eggs once relied on a process known as slow-freezing, a newer technique known as flash-freezing, or vitrification, has improved the survival of these eggs as well as associated pregnancy rates. This latter process has therefore become the recommended method for social egg freezing.
How successful is social egg freezing?
Estimates place the survival rate of eggs after vitrification and thawing at somewhere between 90% and 97%. The associated fertilization and implantation rates are 71% to 79% and 17% to 41%, respectively.
Are there risks?
Using hormones to stimulate the ovaries can pose some risks, perhaps the most notable of which is ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome. When this syndrome occurs, patients may feel tired and irritable and may suffer nausea, headaches, and abdominal and breast pain. However, these unwanted side effects of ovary stimulation are usually easily managed. In less than 2% of patients, the syndrome may be more severe.
When considering the risks associated with egg freezing, it is also important to consider them in the context of the likely alternative, which is pregnancy during advanced maternal age. Women who are expected to deliver after the age of 35 are at heightened risk for preeclampsia, preterm labor, gestational diabetes, and cesarean delivery. Offspring too are at heightened risk when their mothers are of advanced maternal age. For instance, these children are more prone to chromosomal abnormalities.
As technology and research progresses, social egg freezing is becoming a more popular way to preserve fertility because of its relatively high success rates and relatively low risks, particularly when compared to birthing children when unhealthy or in advanced age. Medical societies that specialize in reproduction now recognize social egg freezing as a non-experimental and thus viable choice for reproduction.