The amount of egg freezing cycles completed in the UK in 2017 increased by 10% since 2016, according to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), which regulates fertility treatment in the UK.
Uptake for the treatment is still fairly low, with 1,463 cycles completed in 2017. But with celebrities including Rita Ora and Kourtney Kardashian sharing their experiences of egg freezing, the procedure has never been more publicised.
Here’s everything you need to know if you’re considering it:
What is egg freezing?
A woman’s eggs decline in quality and number as she gets older. Egg freezing is a treatment designed to preserve a woman’s fertility by freezing her eggs when they are still high quality, enabling the woman the chance to use them at a later date.
How does egg freezing work?
There are four main stages to the egg freezing process: ovarian stimulation, egg retrieval, freezing and fertilisation.
Much like with IVF, ovarian stimulation requires women to administer a course of at-home injections over roughly 10 days to stimulate the ovaries so they produce multiple eggs during one cycle. During this time, women undergoing treatment are monitored via regular blood tests and ultrasound scans.
Next is the egg retrieval process. Eggs are retrieved via an operation, which involves a doctor retrieving the eggs by guiding a catheter through the vaginal wall – you’ll be under general anaesthetic when this happens.
The eggs are then ready for freezing. They are pre-treated with a solution (called cryoprotectant), which is designed to protect the eggs before they are frozen and stored in secure tanks of liquid nitrogen.
Wwhen you want to get pregnant, your eggs are thawed and fertilised. During this final two-part stage, eggs that have survived the freezing process are injected with a partner’s or donor’s sperm. The resulting embryo is then placed into your uterus via a catheter.
How much does egg freezing cost?
The costs of egg freezing vary between clinics, but the procedure doesn’t come cheap.
The average cost of having your eggs collected and frozen is £3,350, according to the HFEA. Ovarian stimulation medication is usually an added £500-£1,500.
Storage costs are also extra and tend to be between £125 and £350 per year and finally, 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, but could cost as much as £10,850 if you chose to store your eggs for the maximum of 10 years.
When should you freeze your eggs (and how many should you freeze)?
You should freeze your eggs before you reach 35 to for the best chance of pregnancy after treatment, says Dr Victoria Walker, fertility expert at Institut Marques, a clinic specialising in assisted reproduction. “The younger the patient is, the better the survival rate and quality of the eggs,” she previously told HuffPost UK.
It’s usual to recommend freezing around 20 eggs, but doctors will alter this figure based on an individual, her age and current level of fertility. “It is really important to emphasise that egg freezing does not guarantee you will be able to conceive when you use the eggs later on,” stresses Dr Walker.
How long can women store their eggs for?
When a woman freezes eggs following cancer treatment, they can be stored for up to 55 years. However, in the UK the law stipulates eggs frozen for “social reasons” can be stored for a maximum of 10 years – something campaigners are trying to change.
Dr Kylie Baldwin, from De Montfort University, previously told HuffPost UK that the law currently dissuades women from freezing their eggs at the biologically optimal time – something to bear in mind if you’re considering the procedure.
“Should a 28-year-old woman freeze her eggs, those eggs will need to be used or destroyed by the time she is 38, which is potentially right when she may need them the most,” she explained.
Are there any concerns women should be aware of?
Sarah Norcross, director of fertility campaign group Progress Educational Trust (PET), warned women that “egg freezing should never be considered a fertility insurance policy”.
“This is a science that is still in its infancy: the birth rate for women using their own eggs, in what is known as a ‘thaw cycle’, is only 18%, below the average IVF success rate,” she told HuffPost UK.
She added that women also need to carefully consider the optimal time for freezing eggs, particularly because of the 10-year storage limit.
“PET is concerned to see the HFEA’s data on egg freezing reveals that more than two-thirds (67%) of women freezing their eggs are 35 and over, when it is known that the chance of IVF success is greater if egg freezing takes place before age 35,” she said. “Women are faced with a difficult choice: freeze your eggs at the optimal time for reproductive success – in your 20s – but be forced to use your eggs sooner than you’d like, or delay freezing your eggs until your 30s but reduce your chance of IVF success.’