What is Egg Banking?
The process of freezing one or more unfertilized eggs (eggs that have not been combined with sperm) to save them for future use. The eggs are thawed and fertilized in the laboratory to make embryos that can be placed in a woman’s uterus. Egg banking is being studied as a type of fertility preservation. It may be useful for women with cancer who want to have children after having radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or certain types of surgery, which can cause infertility. Egg banking is also called egg cryopreservation, egg freezing, and oocyte cryopreservation.
Why freeze and bank eggs?
Egg freezing and banking allows patients to extend their fertility. Thawed eggs retain their ability to become fertilized from the time of freezing, giving the patient peace of mind by knowing pregnancy may be possible in the future.
For women who have to go through aggressive and potentially fertility-harming treatments such as chemotherapy, egg freezing may allow them to preserve their fertility and build a family after treatment.
Egg freezing can also help women with premature fertility loss, such as diminished ovarian reserve, by banking healthy eggs at an early age when they are more likely to be viable for later use. In these cases, the woman’s physician will recommend egg freezing and banking.
Some women choose to freeze and bank their eggs for social reasons, such as waiting for the right partner or not wanting to take a leave from work. The frozen eggs can be thawed, fertilized and implanted for pregnancy at a later time.
Egg freezing carries several risks to the woman or couple, including:
- Ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome
- Surgical complications
- Emotional effects
Rarely, the use of ovulation induction medications can cause swollen or painful ovaries, as well as other symptoms such as nausea, bloating, and some abdominal pain. This collection of symptoms is known as ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome. The symptoms can vary a great deal, from mild to severe. The patient may be instructed to stop taking the medication and cancel the cycle if the risk is severe. The egg retrieval process is a surgical procedure and carries the same basic risks as any other surgery. This includes infection, scarring, mild bleeding, and other anesthesia-related complications. The needle used to collect the eggs can very rarely damage the bowel, bladder or a blood vessel. Emotional risks may arise from the possibility of false hope. Egg freezing and banking can provide a fertility safety net, but there is never a guarantee of conception. Patients should know that even with healthy, young eggs pregnancy might not happen.
With the development of rapid freezing of human oocytes, many programs have reported IVF success rates comparable to those achieved with fresh eggs and thawed frozen embryos. Egg freezing is now gaining professional and regulatory acceptance as a safe and effective technique for women who wish to avoid discarding excess embryos, who face fertility-threatening medical treatments, or who want to preserve their eggs for use when they are better situated to have a family.