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Egg Freezing Q&A

By: Dr. Kaajal Abrol, MD, FRCSC, REI

TRIO fertility specialist Dr. Kaajal Abrol was recently interviewed by Flare Magazine for an article about thirtysomething celebs freezing their eggs. We decided to expand this discussion and asked Dr. Abrol to answer a few more of the most frequently asked questions about egg freezing. Here’s what she said…

1. Why do most people want to freeze their eggs?
Many women choose egg freezing for social reasons, while others may need to consider it for medical reasons. For those who pursue it for non-medical reasons, it is often because they want to have a family but have not yet found the partner to do this with, or because the timing isn’t right in their life (e.g. focussed on their career). Egg freezing allows them to keep their options open for starting a family in the future.


2. Is there an optimum age to freeze your eggs?
It makes sense for women in their late 20s and early 30s to consider egg freezing. Egg quality and egg quantity decline as a woman ages. By the time a woman is in her late 30s, egg quality is significantly lower, affecting future egg survival and pregnancy rates. At TRIO, we will freeze eggs for women who are up to 39 years of age, although we encourage patients to pursue this before they are 38 years old.


3. What risks are associated with egg freezing?
Egg freezing should not negatively impact your health or the health of your future child. However, as with any medical procedure, there are some downsides to consider: the emotional toll of the process, the time commitment required to undergo the medical work up and egg freezing procedure, and the cost of the treatment (the egg freezing procedure and associated medications).


4. How much does egg freezing cost?
The cost of egg freezing varies depending on the clinic. The costs include: the procedure, the medications, and the egg storage. Procedural costs usually range from $8,000-$10,000 . Medications will depend on the individual patient, the medication protocol used, and the response of the ovaries to stimulation; but this will usually range from $3000-$7000. Cost of medications is affected by a woman’s egg numbers (determined by preliminary fertility testing) and response of her ovaries to fertility medications. Egg storage is generally an annual fee, and ranges from $200-$1000 per year.


5. How many eggs will be frozen?
Ideally, we hope to freeze 15-20 mature eggs, in order to give a woman a reasonable pregnancy rate in the future. Sometimes we are able to achieve this from a single treatment cycle; but often this takes more than one treatment cycle.


6. How long does it take?
From start to finish, the process of egg freezing may take approximately 4-5 weeks. Monitoring bloodwork and ultrasounds are done early in the morning, before most patients start work, allowing them to proceed with their day as usual. In general, 2-3 days off work around the actual egg retrieval procedure is recommended. This includes the day of the procedure, then 1-2 days after.


7. What can I expect?
Bloodwork and ultrasound exams occur during the ovarian egg stimulation phase every 1-3 days for approximately 2 weeks The ultrasounds are looking at the ovaries to see how they are responding to the fertility medications. Specifically, we look to see if the follicles (cysts that contain eggs) are growing, as this is a sign that a mature egg may be developing within it. The bloodwork measures hormone levels, which change as mature eggs develop within the ovaries.


8. How does egg retrieval work?
During the egg retrieval procedure, which takes approximately 30 minutes, a patient is given a sedative for pain relief and comfort. A transvaginal ultrasound is used to visualize the ovaries. This is similar to what is done during the monitoring stage of treatment. A needle is then guided alongside the ultrasound, through the wall of the vagina, into the ovaries. This needle is attached to tubing, so that we can then drain the fluid from the follicles into tiny test tubes. This fluid is then taken directly into our embryology lab, where it is assessed under a microscope, in order to look for the eggs.


9. What happens during freezing?
Eggs are labelled with your name, date of freezing, your unique patient ID number and the total number of eggs we are freezing for you. We freeze only the mature ones, which have the best possibility of fertilization in the future. We do this using a state-of-the art freezing method known as vitrification, which gives a very high survival rate. The eggs are then stored in liquid nitrogen.


10. How long will eggs last?
At this point, there is no limit to how long eggs can be kept frozen; although, as more women come back to use their frozen eggs, we may be able to provide a more precise answer. Unfortunately, freezing eggs does not guarantee future pregnancy. Success from egg freezing varies from patient to patient, and is largely influenced by egg quality (associated with a woman’s age) and egg quantity (the number of eggs we are able to retrieve after stimulating the ovaries).