It is not uncommon to hear the term “the ticking biological clock,” when people discuss women’s fertility. Beyond the controversial nuances surrounding the term, it does hold a grain of truth. As women age, the quantity and quality of the ova (egg cells) will decline. This simply translates to an increased risk of miscarriages, chromosomal abnormalities, congenital disabilities, and the like.
To circumvent this situation, egg freezing is seen by some as a way to temporarily stop the biological clock and expand one’s reproductive options by preserving younger, possibly healthier eggs. For women looking to extend their childbearing years, whether due to personal or health reasons, egg freezing has become an increasingly attractive, viable option.
If you are considering egg freezing as a fertility treatment, it pays to be aware of what the treatment entails and the risks that may come with it. Here are 5 things about egg freezing treatment that you should know.
1. How The Egg Freezing Process Works
The egg freezing process, or in medical speak, oöcyte cryopreservation, is a fertility preservation technique wherein the eggs are extracted and frozen to be used sometime in the future. It involves the patient undergoing a hormone-injection process that stimulates the ovaries to produce multiple eggs. The patient can remove multiple eggs at once, which is highly recommended since it offers the highest possibility of obtaining a healthy, matured egg to be fertilised.
Once matured, the eggs will be retrieved with a needle through the vagina under ultrasound guidance. These eggs will immediately be frozen either via slow freezing or vitrification, with the latter offering a 91% survival rate as compared to the former, which has a 61% survival rate. This entire process will be done under intravenous sedation.
When the patient is ready to attempt pregnancy, the eggs will be thawed, fertilised, and transferred to the uterus as embryos.
2. The Ideal Age Window at Which to Freeze Your Eggs
According to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM), the optimal time to have one’s eggs frozen is when they are in their 20s or early 30s, as the ovarian reserve and health of these eggs are at their peak.
3. Egg Freezing Is Not an Insurance Policy
It is worth noting that whilst egg freezing may take the stress off from the baby-having timeline at the moment, it is not a surefire way of guaranteeing one’s forever fertility. Success is still dependent on a number of factors, such as the age at which you have harvested your eggs, how well the eggs are stored, variables within the fertilisation process, and pregnancy itself.
4. The Medical Risks
Health Risks of Egg Freezing
Unfortunately, egg freezing, as with many other types of surgeries, does come with its medical risks. Whilst the surgical procedure is relatively safe, the hormone shots may cause ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome. Thankfully, this risk has been significantly lowered by way of identifying risk factors (polycystic ovary syndrome, for instance), measuring anti-Mullerian hormone levels, and the tailoring of the hormone protocol.
That said, more longitudinal data is needed to know the long-term effects of egg freezing. Long-term hormone replacement procedures in general, are linked to an increased risk of breast, uterine, and other cancers.
For the baby, initial research found that the rate of congenital disabilities was 1.3%, much lower than the 3% rate of congenital disabilities in the general population. However, further research is required to fully assess the potential risks, especially in the long term.
Health Risks of Delayed Pregnancy
Since women are delaying pregnancy well into their 30s and beyond, we cannot dismiss the risks that come with getting pregnant once one is over 30 years of age, egg freezing or otherwise.
Risks to Women:
- Increased risk of gestational diabetes
- Caesarean delivery
- Preterm delivery of a baby with low birth weight
Risks to Baby:
- Premature birth
- Low birth weight
- Congenital structural abnormalities
- Structural cardiac anomalies
Do note that these risks vary widely from one person to another. Be sure to consult your doctor for advice to know what your best option might be.
5. The Financial Costs
A single egg freezing cycle, which includes initial tests, injections and retrieval surgery, can cost anywhere from S$8,000 on average. This does not include storage fees, which are typically $600 per year.
Let Fertility Experts Guide You Around Your Infertility
Egg freezing offers a hedge against future infertility and general peace of mind for individuals and couples who wish to build a family much later. Individuals and couples keen to opt for this route need to consider the risks, costs, and low success rate.
If you are suffering from an infertility condition, The O&G Specialist Clinic is here to help you realise your dreams of starting a family. We offer various fertility treatments and infertility management to help you navigate around infertility. Our fertility specialists will support you through every stage, providing you with the expertise and empathy you deserve.
At The O&G Specialist Clinic, we put your health as our priority. We strive to offer you solutions so that you can regain hope for parenthood.
The O&G Specialist Clinic’s founder, Dr Loh, was the Head of Reproductive Medicine Department in KK Women and Children’s Hospital, and the Director of KKIVF Center before establishing The O&G Specialist Clinic. In addition, he is also the current Medical Director of Thomson Fertility Center.
In addition to Dr Loh’s medical practice, our fertility clinic has wide partnerships with other fertility specialists and healthcare professionals both in Singapore and beyond, to cater to your specific needs.
Let us journey with you as you take the next few steps towards parenthood today!
Cao, Y. X., Xing, Q., Li, L., Cong, L., Zhang, Z. G., Wei, Z. L., & Zhou, P. (2009). Comparison of survival and embryonic development in human oocytes cryopreserved by slow-freezing and vitrification. Fertility and sterility, 92(4), 1306-1311.
Ethics Committee of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. (2018). Planned oocyte cryopreservation for women seeking to preserve future reproductive potential: an Ethics Committee opinion. Fertility and sterility, 110(6), 1022-1028.
Noyes, N., Porcu, E., & Borini, A. (2009). Over 900 oocyte cryopreservation babies born with no apparent increase in congenital anomalies. Reproductive biomedicine online, 18(6), 769-776.
Petropanagos, A., Cattapan, A., Baylis, F., & Leader, A. (2015). Social egg freezing: risk, benefits and other considerations. CMAJ, 187(9), 666-669.