“Fertility preservation is the process of taking medications and stimulating one’s ovaries, with the plan to take the eggs out of the body and freeze them for one’s future use,” says Pavna Brahma, M.D., a reproductive endocrinologist at Piedmont Atlanta Hospital. “There are a lot of difference applications for fertility preservation. It was initially developed with cancer patients, who might find out they have a cancer diagnosis and need to start therapy or chemotherapy soon after. The drugs aimed at reducing cancer with chemotherapy can also reduce ovarian reserve.”
In an effort to give cancer patients the hope of having children in the future, experts developed egg freezing technology.
“We began the technology with the hopes of preserving their eggs for future use using a process called vitrification, which is an instantaneous flash-freeze,” explains Dr. Brahma. “This type of technology allows us to limit crystal formation within the eggs so we don’t have as many issues with the integrity of the DNA.”
Egg freezing is typically recommended for patients no older than 40.
“When we think of egg freezing, someone’s biological clock has a lot to do with whether or not they’re a good candidate,” she says. “Ideally, we encourage women to come in for consultations prior to the age of 38. But we can accomplish egg freezing [before] about age 40. The limitations of aging on the ovary can play a role in the upper end of the [age] spectrum.”
Egg freezing benefits
“One of the key advantages to freezing one’s eggs at a younger age is that when we come back to utilize the eggs – when they are thawed and then fertilized – we see that the pregnancy rates actually equate to the age at the time of freezing.”
She cites the following example:
“If a woman comes in to freeze her eggs at age 32, that is within one of the peak windows for IVF [in vitro fertilization] success. If she doesn’t come back to use those eggs until her late 30s, when IVF [pregnancy rates] decline somewhat, her IVF success rate is actually still in the category [of the age she was when she froze her eggs], which is really remarkable.”
Eggs can safely remain frozen for up to five years, if not longer.
“Basically, it’s somewhat limited by the novelty of the technology,” says Dr. Brahma. “We have been freezing eggs for five to 10 years, so data goes back only that far, but we do believe that vitrifications likely allows at least five years, if not longer, for freezing eggs.”
Egg freezing technology is one of the most exciting advancements in the field of IVF, she says.
“The ability to freeze eggs, which has been kind of perfected scientifically over the past decade, has been considered experimental for the wealth of that time based on the fact that it was a novel technology,” she explains. “The outcomes were limited and our ability to study this was limited by the newness of it.”
Now that the technology has become so successful, “we are excited to know that recently the experimental designation of egg freezing was lifted,” says Dr. Brahma. “This is no longer considered an experimental type of technology based on the wealth of information that has been gathered from it.”
Click here for more information about fertility preservation for cancer patients.