Medical Egg Freezing
Chronic illnesses seriously disrupt people’s lives and aggressive cancer treatments - chemotherapy or radiotherapy - can impact the ovarian reserve and affect the ability to conceive a child.
Emergency Fertility Preservation is an egg freezing service for women diagnosed with a chronic illness, such as cancer, who have not yet begun treatment. This makes it possible for them to get pregnant in the future.
What is emergency egg freezing?
Egg freezing is the process of extracting, freezing and storing a woman’s eggs so that they may be used to conceive a child in the future. There are no absolute guarantees but egg freezing does give a woman the opportunity to try for a baby at a later date.
Who is emergency egg freezing suitable for?
Egg freezing is an option for women between the ages of 18 and 42, who have been diagnosed with a condition that will seriously impact their fertility. Such conditions include treatable cancers where the treatment requires chemotherapy or radiation, or any condition that would require the removal of ovaries.
Fast-track support for cancer patients:
If you’ve been diagnosed with an illness where the treatment could impact your fertility it’s important to discuss this with your medical team and oncologist to make sure that you preserve your fertility options for the future.
The aim of the Sims IVF Fertility Preservation Programme is to make it as easy as possible for women, who have been diagnosed with cancer to have their eggs frozen and to preserve their chance to have a baby.
There is often very little time between cancer diagnosis and treatment, so we're prepared to act fast, by arranging a fast-track appointment to meet with our doctors, so that options can be discussed. Early consultation means that there is time to implement a fertility preservation plan.
We work closely with oncologists and medical staff to ensure that our fertility preservation plan does not adversely affect the timing or effectiveness of your medical treatment.
What does egg freezing involve?
There are three general steps involved in an egg freezing cycle.
- Stimulation of the ovaries to encourage development and maturation of the eggs:
Under the care of a consultant gynaecologist, the woman is given fertility medications to stimulate her ovaries to produce many follicles.
Follicles are the small fluid-filled structures which develop on the ovaries, each of which will hopefully contain an egg.
The number and size of the developing follicles is measured by trans-vaginal ultrasound scans. The exact number of follicles which develop varies between patients, but the average is about 10. The final preparation for egg retrieval involves a hormone injection which mimics the natural trigger for ovulation. Egg retrieval will take place 36-38 hours after this injection.
2. Retrieval of the eggs:
Egg retrieval is a minor theatre procedure which is carried out on an outpatient basis under local anaesthesia. The trans-vaginal ultrasound probe is used to visualise the ovaries and a needle attached to the probe is passed through the vaginal wall into the follicles.
The fluid within each follicle is aspirated and then examined in the IVF laboratory for the presence of an egg. After identification, the eggs are washed and transferred to petri dishes in an incubator.
3. Freezing of the eggs:
The eggs are frozen in the laboratory using a method known as vitrification. The eggs can then be stored until you’re ready to use them, when they can be thawed and used for IVF.
What is vitrification?
Egg freezing is a relatively new procedure, because of the complications involved in preserving eggs. The fact that the egg is the largest cell in the body and high in water content makes it difficult to freeze safely. Traditional cryopreservation technology caused crystals which resulted in damage to a high proportion of eggs, making freezing unviable.
Vitrification is a new cryopreservation technology. It is a flash-freezing process where unfertilised eggs are placed in a special freezing solution, which helps eggs to survive freezing and thawing so that they remain intact and viable.
What are the success rates of egg freezing?
Current pregnancy rates following the use of thawed, vitrified eggs have begun to rival those achieved when fresh, unfrozen eggs are used. Thousands of babies have been born worldwide to those who have recovered from cancer and other serious illness, following egg vitrification.
Evolution of fertility preservation:
Fertility preservation was originally developed to assist cancer patients, impacted by strong drugs, to freeze their eggs prior to treatment and conceive a baby at a later stage.
In Ireland, 16,966 women of child-bearing age (15-44) were diagnosed with cancer between 2000 and 2009. This equates to an average of 1,885 cancer patients annually who could potentially become infertile. It’s estimated that in the near future, one in 250 young adults will be long-term survivors of cancer.
Prior to the advent of fertility preservation, female cancer sufferers had few options when it came to preserving their fertility in the face of cancer treatment.
Is embryo freezing an option?
In specific circumstances, if you have a partner you may choose to freeze embryos for future fertility treatment. This involves undergoing an IVF cycle to retrieve the eggs which are then fertilised in the laboratory and the resulting embryos are stored.
It’s important to note that where embryos are created, both partners have the right to withdraw their consent for future use of the embryos. The serious consequences of this should be considered as it could result in you losing access to your own reproductive material. As a woman, freezing your eggs gives you more autonomy over your pregnancy options in the future.