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A male doctor cryopreserving female eggs in a lab

Oocyte cryopreservation, commonly known as egg freezing, is a medical procedure that has gained increasing popularity in recent years. In fact, in 2021 alone, egg freezing cycles surged by a staggering 46%, marking a stunning upward trend that has quadrupled since 2017.

This technique involves freezing a patient's eggs to preserve them for future use in in vitro fertilization (IVF). Egg freezing can be beneficial for those who may want to delay family planning for personal reasons, or for those who need to freeze for medical reasons like starting chemotherapy. In this article, we will explore the various aspects of oocyte cryopreservation, including the procedure, the indications, and the potential benefits and limitations.

What is oocyte cryopreservation?

Oocyte cryopreservation is a process in which a patient’s eggs are extracted and frozen to preserve them for later use. The procedure involves several steps, including ovarian stimulation, egg retrieval, and cryopreservation.

First, ovarian stimulation is initiated by administering medications to stimulate the ovaries to produce multiple eggs. The goal is to increase the number of eggs retrieved in a single cycle to maximize the chances of success.

Next, the eggs are retrieved through a minimally invasive procedure known as transvaginal ultrasound-guided follicle aspiration. The procedure involves inserting a small needle through the vagina into the ovaries to extract the mature follicles that contain the eggs.

Once the eggs are retrieved, they are immediately cryopreserved through a process called vitrification. Vitrification involves rapidly cooling the eggs to a temperature of -196°C to preserve them for future use. During this process, the eggs are immersed in a solution containing cryoprotectants, which protect the eggs from damage during the freezing and thawing process.

When you’re ready to use the eggs, they are thawed and fertilized through IVF. The fertilized eggs, or embryos, are then genetically tested and implanted into the uterus for pregnancy.

Indications for oocyte cryopreservation

The most common reason for oocyte cryopreservation is for people who want to delay pregnancy for personal or career reasons. Egg freezing allows you to freeze eggs at a younger age, increasing the chances of IVF success down the line. 

Another reason for oocyte cryopreservation is for those who face the risk of infertility due to medical treatments. Cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy can damage the ovaries and reduce fertility. In these cases, egg freezing before treatment can provide patients with the option of preserving their fertility for future use.

Also, people who are carriers for certain genetic conditions that want to reduce the risk of passing on the genetic disease to their offspring may be a good candidate for oocyte cryopreservation. If you know you will need IVF and genetic testing of embryos down the line to get pregnant and carry a healthy pregnancy, it may be best to do the first part of IVF (oocyte cryopreservation) in advance. 

Benefits of oocyte cryopreservation

There are a lot of benefits of oocyte cryopreservation. First and foremost, it provides patients with the option of delaying pregnancy and preserving their fertility for future use. This can be particularly beneficial for those who want to focus on their careers or personal goals before starting a family. Egg freezing can also be helpful for those who are not yet in a stable relationship or who have not found a suitable partner with whom to co-parent.

Another benefit of oocyte cryopreservation is that it can help patients who face the risk of reduced fertility due to medical treatments or conditions. Cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy can be life-saving but can also damage the ovaries and reduce fertility. Egg freezing before treatment can provide women with the option of preserving their fertility for future use after treatment is complete.

Oocyte cryopreservation can also help those who are at risk of premature ovarian failure, a condition where the ovaries stop functioning before the age of 40. By freezing their oocytes at a younger age, these patients can preserve their fertility and avoid the need for donor eggs or adoption in the future.

Risks of oocyte cryopreservation

Oocyte cryopreservation is considered a safe procedure. In a single egg freezing cycle, the risk of a serious adverse event is under 2.5%. Severe OHSS accounts for the majority of complications, occuring in 0.1-2% of cycles. The risk of other acute complications, including pelvic infection, intraperitoneal hemorrhage, or ovarian torsion, is small (<0.5%).

That being said, many women do experience minor side effects – like bloating, constipation, nausea – from the medications and egg retrieval

Limitations of oocyte cryopreservation

Oocyte cryopreservation is not a guarantee of pregnancy, and success rates can vary depending on several factors, including your age at the time of the procedure, the number and quality of the oocytes collected, and the use of fresh or frozen sperm.

There are other considerations to consider, such as the high cost of the procedure and the potential for women to feel pressured to delay childbearing in order to pursue their careers or other personal goals.

And while many people who freeze their eggs don’t need them, a study of egg freezing patients found that 89% believed they would be glad they froze their eggs, regardless of if they use them to conceive a child. 

Freeze your eggs through Cofertility

One path to oocyte cryopreservation is working with Cofertility. Through our Split program, qualified freezers can freeze their eggs for free when donating half of the eggs retrieved to a family who can’t otherwise conceive. 

Through our Keep program — where you keep 100% of eggs retrieved for your own future use — we offer exclusive discounts on expenses, such as frozen egg storage. Keep members also still gain free access to our Freeze by Co Community, a safe space for those engaging in the egg freezing process (or gearing up for it) to connect and lean on each other. It also enables access to exclusive guidance, free expertise, and community events. 

By making oocyte cryopreservation easier and more accessible, our programs further strengthen the American Society of Reproductive Medicine (ASRM)’s Committee Opinion that egg freezing can help promote social justice and strengthen gender equality.

A final word

Oocyte cryopreservation is an exciting option for those who wish to preserve their fertility and increase their chances of having a biological child later in life. While the procedure has some risks and limitations, it offers several advantages, including improved success rates for those who end up needing assistance conceiving.

As technology continues to advance, it is likely that oocyte cryopreservation will become an even more popular option for those who wish to take control of their reproductive health and family planning. However, it is important to carefully consider the risks and benefits of the procedure and to consult with a fertility clinic to determine whether you are a good candidate.