Freezing Eggs & Egg Banking

Freezing eggs and egg banking at a glance

  • Freezing eggs & egg banking involves a woman choosing to have eggs retrieved from her ovaries, frozen to preserve their viability and stored until she is ready to use them in a future in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatment to achieve pregnancy.
  • Egg freezing and egg banking can be used to preserve fertility in patients going through aggressive medical treatments, such as chemotherapy, or in patients who wish to preserve their fertility now to start a family later.
  • Freezing eggs and egg banking has good success rates, resulting in pregnancy in an average of about 55 percent of cases, according to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.

What is freezing eggs and egg banking?

Freezing eggs and egg banking, also called oocyte cryopreservation, is a relatively new method of fertility preservation where a mature, unfertilized egg is retrieved from a woman, frozen and stored for future use.

The process of freezing eggs resembles the beginning of the in vitro fertilization (IVF) process because both begin with ovulation induction. During ovulation induction, or controlled ovarian hyperstimulation, the woman takes hormone medication to increase the number of eggs available.

One egg is released during normal ovulation, but with controlled ovarian hyperstimulation, multiple eggs can be released. The patient will need to take hormones daily for approximately 10 to 12 days to produce multiple eggs before regular ovulation.

Egg retrieval is a short surgical procedure in which a physician collects the mature eggs in their follicles. The procedure uses a long needle inserted through the vagina, guided by ultrasound, while the patient is sedated and monitored by an anesthesiologist.

The collected eggs are then frozen with a flash-freezing method known as vitrification. They are then stored in a secure facility until needed. The Women & Infants Fertility Center lab often stores frozen eggs; commercial egg banks also store eggs for extended periods of time.

Freezing eggs and banking eggs usually has a good success rate. Around 90 percent of eggs survive the thawing process. Of those, about 75 percent are successfully fertilized, and up to  55 percent are carried to term, according to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. These numbers vary based on the health of the egg, the health of the patient or gestational carrier, and other factors.

Why freeze and bank eggs?

Egg freezing and banking allows patients to extend their fertility. Thawed eggs retain their ability to become fertilized from the time of freezing, giving the patient peace of mind by knowing pregnancy may be possible in the future.

For women who have to go through aggressive and potentially fertility-harming treatments such as chemotherapy, egg freezing may allow them to preserve their fertility and build a family after treatment.

Egg freezing can also help women with premature fertility loss, such as diminished ovarian reserve, by banking healthy eggs at an early age when they are more likely to be viable for later use. In these cases, the woman’s physician will recommend egg freezing and banking.

Some women choose to freeze and bank their eggs for social reasons, such as waiting for the right partner or not wanting to take a leave from work. The frozen eggs can be thawed, fertilized and implanted for pregnancy at a later time.

Risks and side effects of egg freezing and egg banking

Egg freezing carries several risks to the woman or couple, including:

  • Ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS, see below).
  • Surgical complications.
  • Emotional effects.

Rarely, the use of ovulation induction medications can cause swollen or painful ovaries, as well as other symptoms such as nausea, bloating and some abdominal pain. This collection of symptoms is known as ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome. The symptoms can vary a great deal, from mild to severe. The patient may be instructed to stop taking the medication and cancel the cycle if the risk is severe.

The egg retrieval process is a surgical procedure and carries the same basic risks as any other surgery. This includes infection, scarring, mild bleeding and other anesthesia-related complications. The needle used to collect the eggs can very rarely damage the bowel, bladder or a blood vessel.

Emotional risks may rise from the possibility of false hope. Egg freezing and banking can provide a fertility safety net, but there is never a guarantee of conception. Patients should know that even with healthy, young eggs pregnancy might not happen.