At first thought, the idea of freezing your eggs or sperm to increase your chances of expanding your family might seem a little strange. Indeed, cryopreservation – or the process of storing cells/tissue through freezing – for eggs and sperm was once considered experimental. Now, however, scholars concur that egg/sperm freezing is not only no longer experimental, but it can also be highly effective.
In fact, success rates for women using in-vitro fertilization to implant once frozen eggs are between 35 and 65 percent. If you are experiencing infertility, thinking of delaying parenthood until later in life, or you are preparing to undergo cancer treatment that could affect future fertility, cryopreservation may be beneficial for you.
What is Cryopreservation?
Cryopreservation refers to the process of freezing tissue, cells, or other organic matter. Cryopreservation for fertility refers to the freezing of eggs and sperm. Other options, such as embryo and ovarian tissue, are also available.
After they are frozen, both sperm and eggs remain viable for about a decade. Although there is evidence they can be used past this point, most doctors recommend using eggs within ten years and sperm within twelve years for maximum effectiveness.
How are Eggs Frozen Using Cryopreservation?
Before you elect to freeze your eggs using cryopreservation, your doctor will examine you to determine whether you are a suitable candidate for the treatment. If so, you’ll begin by taking follicle stimulating hormone injections daily for 7-10 days. These drugs will enable you to produce multiple eggs that can be fertilized.
Once you’ve ovulated, your doctor will begin the egg retrieval process, a procedure that involves the use of a needle to remove the eggs while you are under anesthesia. Typically, doctors remove 10-20 eggs and test them to ensure they are healthy. Eggs that are determined to be mature are then carefully frozen with liquid nitrogen.
How is Sperm Frozen using Cryopreservation?
The sperm freezing process is somewhat simpler than the procedure required to store eggs, though the concept is the same. First, your doctor will examine you to ensure that you do not have an infectious disease that could put you or your future children at risk.
Next, you’ll sign a release that allows your sperm to be frozen, and then you’ll be asked to produce a fresh sample. Finally, professionals will freeze and store your sperm through immersion in liquid nitrogen.
What are the Risks of Cryopreservation?
There are no known risks to men who donate sperm for cryopreservation. However, because the egg retrieval process is a medical procedure, there are some minor risks involved for women. Abdominal discomfort (cramping), ovarian bleeding and infection, and ovarian hyper stimulation syndrome – a condition that causes nausea, pain, and bloating – are the main concerns.
Egg and sperm freezing have not been connected with any risks of birth defects or developmental disabilities, but in some cases frozen eggs and sperm may be of a lower quality, making a pregnancy less likely. It is also possible that eggs and sperm can be damaged. However, many frozen eggs and sperm are often used successfully for in vitro fertilization.
Who can benefit from Cryopreservation?
Men and Women Facing Cancer Treatment
Radiation, chemotherapy, or a combination of the two are often necessary to fight cancer, but unfortunately they can have a negative impact on fertility.
Both chemotherapy and radiation are often linked to egg and sperm damage or reduction. Before beginning cancer treatment, you can elect to freeze your eggs and sperm so that when you are healthy enough to start a family that option will still be available to you. This is known as oncofertility treatment.
Women who wish to Delay Childbearing
An increasing number of couples are choosing to wait until they are older to start families which can provide many advantages.
Choosing to delay parenthood can allow men and women to be more financially secure or accomplished in their careers. By freezing your eggs or sperm when you are younger, you may be able to conceive more easily at an older age.
Some people choose cryopreservation for other medical or personal reasons. Whatever your reason, it is important to discuss your questions and concerns with an experienced fertility doctor to help you determine whether cryopreservation is the right route for you.
Although cryopreservation may seem strange at first, it is quite common, and by using a combination of cryopreservation and IVF many couples can effectively overcome infertility to start the family they have always envisioned.
If you want to know if you could benefit from this fertility treatment, schedule an appointment to discuss your unique situation with a fertility specialist.