Recently it seems the topic of egg freezing has been popping up everywhere you look. Whether it is in online blogs, articles or in television, the concept of a woman having the option to “freeze” her fertility for one reason or another has become a hot button topic, one which can be both confusing and overwhelming for patients considering their family building options. Over the next few blog entries we will cover the different aspects of egg freezing, but to start with—what is it?
Egg freezing, or in technical terms oocyte cryopreservation, is not a new idea. In fact, the first human birth from a frozen egg was reported in 1986. What has changed in the last decade is access to new technologies and methods of freezing which have made the practice safer for the fragile eggs. Previously, the process of slow freezing eggs had the potential to result in the formation of ice within the cells, leading to damage to the egg and therefore lower likelihood of fertilization and eventual pregnancy. These risks led scientists to look for an alternative method of freezing, resulting in the development of the process of vitrification. Vitrification involves ultra-rapid cooling and use of highly concentrated cryoprotectants in order to essentially solidify the cell into a glass-like state, without the risk of ice forming. It should be noted that slow freezing is still a viable option for preserving eggs and changes in the methods of slow freezing are contributing to increased success.
In terms of treatment, patients looking to freeze their eggs undergo the normal workup and treatment that a traditional IVF patient would. Testing is done initially to establish the patients’ baseline hormonal profile; this assists the physician in determining the best course of medication therapy in order to get the desired response. Once treatment is decided upon, the patient undergoes ovarian stimulation using injectable medications for 7-14 days. During this time the patient is monitored closely by their physician and nurse who may make adjustments to their medication dosing as they deem appropriate. Once the desired response and follicle development has been achieved the patient will take their ovulatory “trigger” injection and come into the office to have their egg retrieval procedure. At that point any eggs retrieved would undergo the cryopreservation procedure that your physician has outlined and essentially be “put on ice.”
In essence egg freezing aims to give the patient control over their own fertility potential, but as with any medical procedure it is important to have all the facts and not be afraid to ask the questions that need to be answered. In the next blog entry we will take a look at what types of patients would be candidates to undergo an egg freezing cycle.