Egg freezing is a reproductive technique available at the Herts & Essex Fertility Centre that enables healthy, young women the opportunity to preserve their fertility.
We know that frozen eggs can be stored safely in liquid nitrogen for many years. Our regulatory body, the HFEA, allows UK clinics to store frozen eggs for up to 55 years, with a renewal of the consent to continue storage at 10-year intervals. This enables you to use them for your treatment in the future when you are ready to start your family.
What is egg freezing?
Egg freezing is a reproductive technique that provides the opportunity to attempt to preserve fertility. Patients undertake an egg collection procedure, and mature eggs can be safely stored in liquid nitrogen for many years, enabling you to use them for treatment in the future.
Is egg freezing for me?
There is a known decline in the success of fertility treatment with advancing age. This is due to the number and quality of the eggs being produced by the ovaries reducing over time. An Anti-Mullerian Hormone (AMH) test can be carried out to give an indication of your ovarian reserve. Due to the link between aging and declining fertility, your chance of a successful pregnancy with frozen eggs is higher if your eggs are frozen at an early reproductive age.
Egg freezing can be an option to consider for fertility preservation if you are at risk of premature ovarian failure, premature menopause or are having any medical treatments which may impact the function of the ovaries.
Elective egg freezing, also known as social egg freezing, is fertility preservation for non-medical or non-emergency reasons. As people in the UK are choosing to start their families later in life; the option of egg freezing offers the opportunity to plan building your family for a convenient time, without the concern that your fertility could be impaired as you grow older.
Before treatment begins it is necessary to have an appointment to see a consultant, who will be able to discuss your treatment and ensure egg freezing is the right option for you. As with any fertility treatment you will be required to have routine screening for infectious diseases and provide written consent for storing your eggs. You will have ample opportunity to discuss your treatment thoroughly with our experienced team and, if you require, with a specialist counsellor.
To retrieve your eggs, you will initially have fertility treatment using daily artificial hormone stimulation and you will be monitored by ultrasound scans. The eggs are retrieved from the ovaries during a surgical procedure, under deep sedation. Once collected the eggs are stored in an incubator in the laboratory before they are prepared for freezing. On average, approximately 70% of eggs recovered are mature, and it is only mature eggs which can be frozen for future treatment. It may be necessary to undergo more than one cycle to freeze a sufficient number of eggs.
How are eggs frozen?
At the Herts & Essex Fertility Centre we freeze eggs using a technique called vitrification. This is a rapid freezing technique that rapidly dehydrates and freezes the eggs preventing the formation of harmful ice crystals.
How long can eggs be stored for?
Our regulatory body the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) enables eggs to be stored for up to 55 years, with renewal of the consent to continue storage at 10-year intervals.
How are the eggs used?
When you are ready to commence treatment to use your frozen eggs, you will first need to be seen by a consultant to discuss appropriate treatment options. Most patients then begin a course of medication to prepare the uterus to receive an embryo.
Eggs are thawed and inseminated by injecting a single sperm into each egg using an ICSI procedure. The following day the inseminated eggs are assessed to determine if they have fertilised normally. Once it is clear how many embryos have formed, the embryo transfer appointment can be confirmed.
The medical preparations required before eggs can be frozen involves taking medications which can have a range of side effects and carries a potential risk of Ovarian Hyper-Stimulation (OHS). The surgery itself also carries risks which are specific to each patient. All medical risks are discussed in full during the consultation process and robust systems are in place to minimise these risks to all patients.
As with all treatments where eggs are collected from the ovary, there is no way to guarantee that usable eggs will be retrieved. On rare occasions, the ovaries do not respond to the medications, the follicles from which the eggs are collected may be empty, or the eggs collected may not be suitably mature for treatment.
Once frozen, eggs are stored at less than 190°C using liquid nitrogen which must be constantly available to keep the eggs safely preserved. At the Herts & Essex Fertility Centre all of our frozen gametes and embryos are stored in liquid nitrogen tanks connected to a temperature monitoring system.
The freezing and thawing process is not without risk to the eggs themselves, as it involves physical movements of the eggs and changes to the chemical environment in which they are stored. At Herts & Essex Fertility Centre we currently have a survival rate of over 80% after thawing, which is in line with published rates from other clinics.
Egg freezing is still a relatively new technology, but studies have been carried out which have found that there is no clinically relevant adverse effects on obstetric and perinatal outcomes for pregnancies conceived from vitrified eggs (Ana Cobo, 2014).
Is it successful?
Egg freezing is still a relatively new technology, and the ability to store eggs long term means that the number of egg thaw cycles in the UK is quite small. But over the ten years since 2009 the number of IVF cycles using frozen eggs in the UK has increased tenfold, to 2400 cycles per year (HFEA, 2021).
At Herts & Essex Fertility Centre, the data sets available are too small to get statistically significant data, but the outcomes for many of the patients that we have treated are encouraging at this early stage.
Funded egg freezing as part of our Egg Sharing programme
We know that nowadays many young women are interested in fertility preservation to enable them to start their families later in life. So, just as our Egg Sharing programme helps women to receive funded IVF treatment, Funded Egg Freezing can also provide women with the opportunity to help another woman who desperately needs donated eggs to begin treatment and at the same time to also meet the cost of her own egg freezing treatment, by sharing half of her eggs. This offer includes free storage for 3 months. Further storage time will be charged at the usual egg freezing rate per year.
Are you eligible for funded egg freezing?
Anyone interested in our funded egg freezing treatment must be fit and healthy, have a BMI of <35, an AMH of 15+, be 18-35 years of age and meet the HFEA criteria required to become an egg donor.
We will ask that you undertake a comprehensive fertility assessment to confirm that you have the potential to produce enough eggs for two people’s treatment. As we are required to assess your health and your genetic makeup, you will need to consent to undertake all the regulatory screening tests. This is to ensure that we do not knowingly pass any inheritable illness on to any child born as a result of your donation.
We are very conscious of the enormous, life-changing gift that our egg share donors make to an infertile couple. It is a very big decision, and it is important that you think carefully, and understand fully, both the practical implications involved as well as the emotional consequences. It is, therefore, mandatory that you receive professional counselling by one of our independent counsellors before becoming an egg share donor.
Where can I get more information?
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority have a dedicated web page regarding egg freezing which can provide you with further information on this procedure.
If you have any questions about egg freezing, or our Funded Egg Freezing programme, that you would like to discuss, please contact our egg share nurse coordinators, Sarah Templeman on 01992 78 50 67 or Caroline Cayley on 01992 78 50 65 or you can email firstname.lastname@example.org
Ana Cobo, V. S. (2014). Obstetric and perinatal outcome of babies born from vitrified oocytes. Fertility & Sterility, 1006-1015.
HFEA. (2021). Fertility treatment 2019: trends and figures. Human Fertilisation & Embryology Authority.
R.H. Goldman, C. R. (2017). Predicting the likelihood of live birth for elective oocyte cryopreservation: a counseling tool for physicians and patients. Human Reproduction, 853-859.