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egg freezing

Egg freezing is a process in which a patient with ovaries chooses to go through the first few steps of the IVF process: preparation, ovarian stimulation, and egg retrieval (see IVF). Instead of fertilizing the eggs, the eggs are frozen for later use if needed.

What is the history of egg freezing?

  • Egg freezing was initially an experimental therapy developed for patients about to undergo specific treatments, like cancer chemotherapy, that had a high risk of causing infertility or sterility.  
  • Egg freezing has been considered an established medical procedure since 2012 when the American Society of Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) removed the experimental label from egg freezing. 
  • The use of egg freezing has increased dramatically and gained popularity since. 
  • In the early years, eggs didn’t survive the freeze thaw process well, however as techniques in the embryology lab have evolved, frozen eggs, particularly for patients less than 37 years old at the time of freezing, are now similar to fresh eggs.

Why do people freeze eggs?

  • Egg freezing is used to increase the chance that future IVF, if needed, will be as successful as possible. 
  • Age is the greatest predictor of fertility, thus the younger a patient is when their eggs are frozen, the higher the likelihood of conceiving from those frozen eggs will be. However, the greatest limitation is that it is hard to predict when and how many children you might have.  
  • It is also difficult to predict precisely when an individual person will be infertile from ovarian aging. We do know for certainty that the younger the eggs are in IVF, the higher the chances of having a baby are. 
  • For most people, ovarian aging is gradual in their 20s and early 30s and exponential starting around 35-37 years of age, with the most rapid change occurring in their 40s. 

Other risks of infertility that freezing eggs may mitigate include:

  • Prior to chemotherapy, if chemo presents a risk of ovary damage.
  • Prior to surgery, if surgery presents a risk of ovary damage. 
  • Prior to surgery to remove the ovaries, for BRCA carriers or gender affirmation surgery. 
  • Prior to gender affirming hormone treatment. 
  • Known genetic risks of early menopause such as turner syndrome or fragile x syndrome.
  • Suspected increased risk of early menopause, such as a strong family history of early menopause or a severely low ovarian reserve (although severely low ovarian reserve does not predict the time to menopause well). 
  • Diseases with an increased medical risk for IVF such as endometriosis or known fallopian tube disease. 

freezing (cryopreservation)

after we have retrieved as many eggs as possible, all your mature eggs will be rapidly frozen in a process called vitrification. we will store these eggs in our cryo chambers until you’re ready to use them. we will let you know exactly how many healthy eggs have been frozen. it’s important to know that the cellular makeup of an unfertilized egg makes it a bit more difficult to freeze and lead to a successful pregnancy than the makeup of a fertilized egg (embryo). this entire process usually takes 2-3 weeks. when you want to use your frozen eggs, they’ll be thawed, fertilized with sperm in the lab, and implanted in your or a gestational surrogate’s uterus.


egg freezing


additional resources

  • what is the difference between egg freezing and embryo banking?

    egg freezing and embryo banking are both forms of fertility preservation through cryofreezing. embryo banking is becoming a more frequent choice, particularly for young couples just starting their careers. egg freezing is the process of cryopreserving unfertilized eggs while embryo banking is cryopreserving already fertilized eggs. some patients choose for a combination of both egg and embryo banking. the egg and embryo banking processes start like the traditional ivf process. medications are prescribed to stimulate the ovaries to mature multiple eggs at once that can then be retrieved and frozen. in women who have cancer, ovarian stimulation protocols are tailored to each patient’s medical needs.

  • how are the eggs removed through the outpatient procedure?

    your doctor will use an ultrasound to identify where your egg clusters are. by now you’ve been on ivf medications for 8-10 days so you should have plenty of eggs. your doctor will use a needle attached to a catheter to gently pierce the vaginal wall. the eggs will be removed 1 by 1 with light suction. your eggs will be collected tubes that are labeled with your name and unique identification number. the eggs will then be transferred to the adjoining embryologist. your doctor will then examine your vaginal wall and ovaries. you may bleed a little and some instances the doctor may cauterize the area. no stitches involved. 

  • how are the eggs fertilized?

    before a man’s sperm can fertilize a woman’s egg, the head of the sperm must attach to the outside of the egg. once attached, the sperm pushes through the outer layer to the inside of the egg (cytoplasm), where fertilization takes place. 

    sometimes the sperm cannot penetrate the outer layer, for a variety of reasons. the egg’s outer layer may be thick or hard to penetrate or the sperm may be unable to swim. in these cases, a procedure called intracytoplasmic sperm injection (icsi) can be done along with in vitro fertilization (ivf) to help fertilize the egg. during icsi, a single sperm is injected directly into the cytoplasm of the egg.