The technology of egg freezing has undergone a quiet revolution over the last few years as clinics have switched from a 'slow freezing process' to vitrification, which significantly increases the chances of the egg surviving the freezing and subsequent thawing process. Freezing and thawing survival rates have gone from approximately 30% to over 90%.
In the past, eggs have been frozen and stored mainly for fertility preservation purposes ahead of cancer treatment - so the motive has been strictly for medical reasons. However, fairly recently egg freezing has become of increasing interest to women who wish to preserve their fertility for 'social reasons'; they may not be in a secure relationship or not ready to embark on motherhood due to their career and/or financial situation. Additionally, women may be concerned about the risk of early menopause due to their family history so choose to explore the egg freezing options.
With egg freezing growing in the UK and much misinformation surrounding the facts on this fertility preservation method, I answer all the common myths and questions on the issue:
What are the benefits?
The reasons for women delaying parenthood are diverse, yet universally, the process takes away the pressure. Egg freezing allows a woman to pursue motherhood at a time in her life when it works for her. Crucially, it gives women the option of having a baby that is genetically theirs, as many older women exploring parenthood are forced to use donor eggs. Many of my patients have stated that freezing their eggs has felt like 'a weight lifted off their shoulders'.
What does the process involve?
During an initial consultation, a doctor will explain the freezing procedure and assess overall medical health. Some initial tests will also be performed: a blood test and an ultrasound scan to assess your fertility.
The blood test measures a panel of horomones, including anti-mullerian hormone (AMH) - a fertility hormone that correlates with your ovarian reserve.
The ultrasound scan is performed during the first week of your period to look at your ovaries and assess the number of antral follicles that develop, which also provides an indication of your ovarian reserve.
The egg freezing procedure involves stimulating the ovaries in order to produce more follicles, containing eggs, in the ovaries, which will then be collected in a simple 30-minute procedure performed under mild sedation. The eggs will be frozen using vitrification and stored until you are ready to begin trying for a family.
How much does egg freezing cost?
Egg freezing is sometimes offered on the NHS based on medical grounds. A woman should ask their GP about what's available and whether they are eligible for NHS treatment.
If you are pursuing a private route, most clinics charge around £4,000 to £5,000 for the complete process. I would advise making sure that all of the following elements are included in the price:
- Initial testing
- Monitoring scans and blood tests during stimulation
- Medications required - this will typically be an estimate because the exact amount of medication you need cannot be determined ahead of time
- Anaesthesia for egg collection
- Freezing charge
There is also an annual storage fee of around £300, with the current maximum storage time being 10 years in the UK.
Is the treatment successful?
It's important to know that freezing your eggs does not guarantee a baby, but it offers a good insurance plan. Future success rates depend on factors such as lifestyle and age. It's crucial to remember that before the eggs are ready for use, they must complete several steps prior to pregnancy including surviving thawing, fertilisation, and implantation.
Although egg freezing is a good insurance policy for your fertility, at HSFC we always recommended that women undergo regular fertility check-ups and discuss options with a qualified medical professional before making any decisions or embarking on treatment. If you do have any concerns about your fertility it is always better to get checked sooner rather than later - tackling medical issues earlier typically results in a better outcome.
Making the decision to freeze your eggs shouldn't be taken lightly, but egg freezing does not damage your fertility or have any alarming side effects.
For more information on egg freezing contact Harley Street Fertility Clinic.