What is oocyte cryopreservation?
Cryopreservation is the storage of viable biological material through freezing. In order to maintain the tissue’s viability, special techniques must be used for putting it through the freezing process. While cryopreservation of both sperm and embryos has been common for years, it’s only recently that the techniques for preserving eggs (oocytes) have advanced enough to make it useful to women.
This procedure offers the potential for fertility preservation to women. While the ovaries stop producing eggs with age, the uterus remains capable of carrying a pregnancy well into the 50s and even the 60s. Thus, if a woman preserves her eggs, she may be capable of carrying her own genetic child in future pregnancies, even well past the age of natural fertility.
Who should consider oocyte cryopreservation?
Women who aren’t ready yet
Unfortunately, in our modern society, biological and social clocks are not closely linked. Society encourages people to spend their 20s and early 30s on career building and adventure, waiting until later to start families. However, biologically, these are the peak childbearing years, and many women are understandably concerned that waiting to have children until their late 30s or 40s could mean that they miss their chance. Yet they don’t want to force themselves to start a family before they’re settled and ready to be mothers.
Oocyte cryopreservation offers a way out of this dilemma. It’s a potentially useful option for women who desire to postpone childbearing, for the purposes of education, career building, or any other reason.
Women who need chemo or radiation
Another group of women who might choose this option are those who are about to undergo chemotherapy or radiation treatment for cancer or other serious diseases. Many of these treatments leave patients with few or no healthy eggs, and yet the treatment may be necessary to save the woman’s life. With oocyte cryopreservation, these women don’t have to give up their future ability to have children.
Women with a family history
Women with a family history of early menopause may choose to freeze eggs at a relatively young age, anticipating that they’re likely to run out of eggs sooner than most women. They may do so even if they plan to try to conceive naturally, as a “backup plan” in case they aren’t pregnant before menopause occurs.
Women who don’t want to freeze embryos
Additionally, people who are undergoing IVF who don’t want to freeze embryos for religious or ethical reasons may choose to have egg retrieval on a large number of oocytes and then freeze the oocytes, to avoid the need to repeat the egg retrieval procedure with every cycle. (The most common procedure with IVF is to fertilize all of the eggs and then freeze any extra embryos for future use, but not everyone is comfortable with doing that.)