Egg freezing is a method of preserving a woman’s fertility so she can try and have children at a later date. This page explains how the process works, its success rates and risks.
What is egg freezing?
Egg freezing is one way of preserving a woman’s fertility so she can try to have a family in the future. It involves collecting a woman’s eggs, freezing them and then thawing them later on so they can be used in fertility treatment.
A woman’s chances of conceiving naturally fall as she gets older because the quality and number of her eggs drops. Egg freezing can be an attempt to preserve fertility by freezing the eggs when the woman is young and the eggs are of the highest quality.
Is egg freezing right for me?
You might want to consider freezing your eggs if:
- You have a medical condition or need treatment for a medical condition that will affect your fertility, such as cancer (in this case NHS funding may be available depending on where you live).
- You’re worried about your fertility declining but you’re not ready to have a child or you haven’t found the right partner – this is often called ‘elective egg freezing’.
- You’re at risk of injury or death (for example, you’re a member of the Armed Forces who is being deployed to a war zone).
- If you’re a female transitioning to a male, you may want to preserve your fertility before you start hormone therapy or have reconstructive surgery. Both treatments can lead to the partial or total loss of your fertility.
- You don’t want to have leftover embryos after IVF treatment for ethical reasons.
What does egg freezing involve?
Firstly, you’ll need to be tested for any infectious diseases like HIV and hepatitis. This has no bearing on whether you can freeze your eggs or not, but is to ensure that affected egg samples are stored separately to prevent contamination of other samples.
You’ll then start the IVF process, which usually takes around two to three weeks to complete. Normally this will involve taking drugs to boost your egg production and help the eggs mature. When they’re ready, they’ll be collected whilst you’re under general anaesthetic or sedation.
At this point, instead of mixing the eggs with sperm (as in conventional IVF) a cryoprotectant (freezing solution) will be added to protect the eggs. The eggs will then be frozen either by cooling them slowly or by vitrification (fast freezing) and stored in tanks of liquid nitrogen. Latest statistics show that vitrification is more successful than the slow cooling method.
Most women will have around 15 eggs collected although this isn’t always possible for women with low ovarian reserves (low numbers of eggs). When you want to use them, the eggs will be thawed and those that have survived intact will be injected with your partner’s or donor’s sperm.
2 – 3 weeksThe average time it takes to freeze your eggs.
How much does egg freezing cost?
The average cost of having your eggs collected and frozen is £3,350, with medication being an added £500-£1,500. Storage costs are extra and tend to be between £125 and £350 per year. Make sure you get a full costed treatment plan from your clinic so you’re not caught out by unexpected ‘extras’.
Thawing eggs and transferring them to the womb costs an average of £2,500. So, the whole process for egg freezing and thawing costs an average of £7,000-£8,000.
How safe is it?
IVF is mostly very safe, although some women do experience side effects from their fertility drugs. These are usually mild, but in extreme cases women can develop ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS), which is potentially fatal, so you should familiarise yourself with the symptoms.
The major risk is that it won’t work – read more about success rates below.
There is some evidence of higher miscarriage rates in pregnancies from frozen thawed eggs. But these studies are limited in scope as only around 2,000 babies have been born worldwide from frozen eggs.
It’s also important to know that as you get older, there is more risk of pregnancy-related complications and health problems to both you and your baby.
How successful is egg freezing?
Egg freezing and thawing are increasing but the number of people having these treatments is still very small. In 2017, there were 1,463 egg freezing cycles (in comparison to almost 70,000 IVF treatment cycles overall). Between 2010 and 2017, around 700 babies were born through frozen eggs in the UK.
A new freezing method called vitrification has been demonstrating higher success rates, but it’s still by no means a guarantee of having a baby. Although in 2017, 19% of IVF treatments using a patient’s own frozen eggs were successful, this means that in around four in five cases, the treatment was unsuccessful.
Egg freezing is a rapidly changing field. If you do decide to freeze your eggs, make sure you choose a clinic that has plenty of experience and ask to see their most recent success rates for women your age.
What decisions do I need to make about my eggs?
You’ll need to complete consent forms before you start treatment specifying how you want your eggs to be used. This includes information on:
- how long you want the eggs to be stored for (the standard period is 10 years)
- what should happen to your eggs if you were to die or become unable to make decisions for yourself
- whether the eggs are to be used for your own treatment only, or whether they can be donated for someone else’s treatment, or used for research or training if you don’t want to use them
- any other conditions you may have for the use of your eggs.
You can vary or withdraw consent at any time, either before treatment or before the eggs are used in research or training. If this happens, your eggs will not be used.
Most people can store their eggs for a maximum of 10 years.
How long can my eggs be stored for?
The standard storage period for eggs is for a maximum of 10 years, although women in certain circumstances may be able to store their eggs for up to 55 years For example, when the woman is at risk of becoming prematurely infertile through medical treatments such as chemotherapy.
Your clinician will be able to advise whether you meet the criteria for extended storage and explain what you need to do if you do meet the criteria. It is important to understand that currently if you are storing eggs for social reasons they can only remain in storage for up to a maximum of 10 years.
You must let the clinic know if you change address. This is important as if the clinic can’t reach you at the end of the consent period, they may have to take your eggs out of storage and allow them to perish.
If you have the option to store for 55 years, you’ll need to confirm that you want to continue storing your eggs and your doctor will need to confirm that you’re eligible to do so. Again, it’s vital that you stay in touch with your clinic to prevent your eggs from being discarded if your storage runs out.
What happens when I want to use my eggs?
Eggs that have been frozen and thawed must be fertilised using a fertility treatment called ICSI, as the freezing process makes the outer coating around the eggs tougher and sperm may be unable to penetrate it naturally under IVF.
This will be an extra cost on top of the fee for collecting, freezing and storing your eggs unless you have NHS funding.