We are approaching a time that freezing eggs will be a standard option for an IVF program much like Embryo freezing is today. Despite the fact that hundreds of babies have been born apparently without an increase in defects or abnormalities, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) has proclaimed that Egg freezing is still considered experimental.
This is not just a scientific decision but is a philosophical and political one as well. In the 1980’s, IVF was being performed likewise on an experimental basis. Insurance companies denied that it had become standard of care until recently. In fact, there are insurance providers who in an effort to deny claims continue to call IVF experimental despite the million babies already born without significant increases in abnormalities or defects noted. However, the ASRM is afraid to push the envelope and take a risk that may make them appear to be promoting a procedure that could theoretically be associated with increased problems with the children created after egg freezing.
But why should we be interested in egg freezing anyway when we have IVF that is successful and known to be relatively safe after 33 years of experience? The reasons are multiple. A young woman who develops cancer and will have radiation therapy or chemotherapy that may affect her eggs or have her ovaries removed would with egg freezing have an option to preserve her fertility and still have her cancer treated. In the past, the loss of a woman’s future ability to bear children was sometimes more emotionally depressing for her than the cancer itself. The prospect of offering hope to such affected women is spreading throughout the community in part through the efforts of the Lance Armstrong Fund supported group, Fertile Hope. They are attempting to educate not just affected individuals but oncologists and other physicians who come into contact with patients who may be able to take advantage of new IVF technologies to preserve their fertility while undergoing cancer treatment.
Another great potential use for frozen eggs is in the donor egg program. Currently, our egg donors go through fresh IVF cycles coordinated in time with the recipients so that the eggs are fertilized fresh when they are retrieved. This is highly successful in achieving pregnancies in approximately 80% of donations. However, cycles can be delayed in trying to synchronize patients. If programs can achieve similar success rates using frozen eggs it will allow recipient patients to choose donor eggs much like they select donor sperm today.
Yet, another benefit of the ability to bank frozen eggs is for women who either because of their career or lack of finding a suitable partner need to put off their childbearing until a time when they would otherwise put their future fertility at significant risk. This is a more controversial use of this technology but a practical concern for countless women today for whom conceiving before age 35 is unrealistic.
Needless to say, egg freezing will be a great benefit for many when it becomes a safe acceptable IVF standard. That time for consideration by patients is rapidly approaching and is something that the public needs to be made aware of.