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In this guide, we’ll debunk egg freezing myths and paint a clear picture of the process step-by-step, what you should know before proceeding, and the costs associated.
In the UK, egg freezing is the fastest-growing fertility treatment on the market. According to the HFEA’s latest Trends and Figures report, the use of egg freezing in the UK has increased tenfold in the past ten years, from 230 cycles in 2009 to almost 2,400 cycles in 2019. Demand is expected to continue growing.
Egg freezing cycles by patient age, HEFA, 2019
The increase in egg freezing reflects the desire to preserve fertility for a number of reasons, but also the ability to do so. While embryo and sperm freezing has been more readily available, egg freezing (and thawing, or defrosting) relied on more recent technological advancements.
Previously, freezing eggs would result in ice crystals to form in the egg cell, which naturally holds a lot of water. Now, using vitrification, experts can freeze eggs quickly enough so that ice crystals do not form and damage the cell. It’s likely thanks to this development that for the first time, IVF success using frozen eggs rivals rates using fresh eggs.
There are plenty of reasons why women freeze their eggs. Some are medical reasons, for example undergoing treatments that may render a person infertile in the future (chemotherapy, radiotherapy or sex reassignment).
There are also non-medical reasons for egg freezing (social egg freezing) where a woman may not be ready for a pregnancy and wishes to preserve her fertility for longer. Occasionally, egg freezing takes place in a previously planned IVF cycle, if sperm is not available.
While the actual procedure for medical and social egg freezing may be similar, this page focuses on social egg freezing, which has a different set of implications when it comes to funding and storage limits.
When it comes to chances of conception, fertility treatments done at younger ages are generally linked to better outcomes. The same applies to egg freezing. Ideally, to maximise chances of egg freezing success, women would freeze eggs before 38.
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That said, it’s usually not as black and white as that. Cost often needs to be factored in, alongside the 10-year storage limit on frozen eggs currently in place in the UK - something that’s frequently contested and challenged, but as of today, stands.
According to the UK’s regulatory body on fertility, the HFEA, deciding when or whether to freeze your eggs is a balancing act. Statistically, a younger woman freezing early would have the best chances of egg freezing success (in other words, getting pregnant using her frozen eggs later in life). However, she also has the best chances of falling pregnant naturally (should she wish to do so).
“The age at which you freeze your eggs is key to your chance of eventually having a baby. Doctors say the best time is during your 20s and early 30s, as the quality of your eggs declines after the age of 35.” - HFEA
Then there is the cost. Freezing eggs and not ever using them is, of course, not cost-effective, and the younger a woman is, the more difficult it may be to self-fund. Social egg freezing is not covered by the NHS.
In summary, there is no ‘right’ egg freezing age. The odds of success are higher the younger someone freezes, but individual circumstances, plans and preferences need to be taken into account. It’s a very personal choice, and we would happily answer any questions you may have as you consider if egg freezing is for you.
The more eggs you freeze, the more chances you have when you use them. It’s important to note that not all eggs may survive the thaw (the process of unfreezing them), and like in IVF, not all eggs may turn into viable embryos.
There is no right answer for everyone, as medical and fertility history, age and personal circumstances all need to be taken into account. That said, we generally recommend that you have 20 to 30 eggs frozen. To collect this number, you’ll usually have to go through the process more than once. This is usually assessed on a case-by-case basis.
It’s usually best to have a discussion with a fertility specialist. Because social egg freezing is not covered by the NHS, a GP may not be able to help.
We offer complimentary phone calls with our advisors to explore your fertility history, explain processes and answer questions you may have. This would be a great place to chat through your situation with someone and see if egg freezing is advised. Arrange a free call here.
Women interested in egg freezing usually start the process with a fertility assessment to ensure they are good candidates for the procedure. Our diagnostic assessments for women involve an AMH blood test to check ovarian reserve (an indicator of egg quantity), an ultrasound scan to check the pelvic organs and a consultation with a fertility doctor to help you review the results. In this consultation, you can understand whether a fertility doctor advises egg freezing for you. The full procedure is outlined below.
The treatment process for egg freezing is the same as the first part of an IVF cycle.
The first step is a fertility assessment to check ovarian reserve and the ability to produce eggs in terms of numbers. This will help the medical team tailor treatment and medication. A pelvic assessment with scans is also important, and there are screening tests required to check for STIs or viral infections.
Whether you’re preparing for egg freezing or simply looking to get a better understanding of your fertility, assessments are a great place to start. Get in touch to find out more, or book a free call with a fertility advisor.
After the fertility assessment is done and you are ready to proceed with egg freezing, you would start medication. This involves drugs used in IVF, which are essentially synthetic hormones similar to the ones that our brain produces each month that tell our ovaries to produce eggs. Medication is taken by injections that women self-administer for around two weeks. The needles are extremely small, and most women do not find the process of injecting painful.
In response to the hormones, the ovaries produce more eggs than in a natural cycle. During the injection period, women visit clinics (or local scanning centres), so doctors can check how the ovaries are responding and if necessary, adjust medication dosages. These checks are sometimes combined with blood test.
At the end of the two-week period comes the ‘trigger shot’, a timed injection that prepares the eggs for collection. Around 36 hours after the injection (which is also self-administered), a woman would go in for egg collection (or egg retrieval). This is a procedure that takes around twenty minutes, where eggs are collected through a fine needle inserted through the vagina. It doesn’t involve any cuts, and is usually done under a mild anaesthetic (rather than general).
Once eggs are collected, they’re passed on to the embryology lab to be processed, prepared and frozen. In a fresh IVF cycle, this is where the eggs would be mixed with sperm to create embryos, and transferred back to the womb.
Our egg freezing package costs £6,150 and includes everything you will need to freeze eggs, such as:
Pre-treatment planning consultation to choose a partner clinic, discuss timing and get a plan in place for you
Pre-treatment screening, including testing blood for infectious diseases
Monitoring scans, which can be arranged as close to you as possible to reduce travelling
Freezing of eggs
One year of storage
On top of that, you’ll also have access to Apricity’s suite of benefits at no extra cost to you:
Choice of partner clinic and scanning centres, to help cut down on travel
Unlimited supportive counselling
7/7 fertility advisor
Treatment app to provide guidance and medication reminders
Additionally, to help you make an informed decision about freezing your eggs, our doctors will start off your journey with a fertility assessment.
We believe in transparency in fertility treatment, so our pricing is upfront and all-inclusive. When comparing costs, it’s important to ensure that aspects such as medication are factored in, to avoid extra costs (medication alone can cost several thousand pounds). Explore our egg freezing package to learn more.
Egg freezing is not usually covered by the NHS unless it is for medical reasons (for example, treatment for cancer). To check, you would need to contact your local CCG (Clinical Commissioning Group) to ask if they fund egg freezing.
The process itself has the same risks as an IVF cycle. Overall it is considered very safe, but there are always risks. The HFEA summarises these on their website.
Egg freezing is a highly personal choice. We do see women who wish to explore egg freezing at around age 40 or above, and that’s not the number one choice. Statistically, eggs at that age are not as high quality, and by the time we thaw and try to use them, it may be too late to try something else.
For women over 40, there may also be a limitation when it comes to the number of eggs collected in an egg freezing cycle. The suggested number of 20 to 30 frozen eggs may be more difficult to reach, even with multiple treatments.
Women over 40 may be advised to try for pregnancy then rather than later, as they have higher chances of a successful pregnancy.
After egg collection, the normal recovery period is usually a few days, although this varies person by person. Some women go back to work the following day. It is normal to have a bleed within a week or so after the egg collection procedure, and then the woman’s regular cycle should resume.
Our knowledge of egg freezing success rates is more limited than other treatments, because egg freezing as a procedure has not been around as long. As a consequence, many women that have frozen eggs have not come back to use them yet.
We know that in terms of thawing (the process of defrosting), eggs themselves have a survival rate of around 80-90%. Technological advancements continue to improve this, but it’s one of the reasons why freezing a higher number of eggs is advised.
Once the eggs survive and are fertilised, rates can greatly vary. We know that the age of the woman at the time of freezing, the age of the woman at time of thaw or embryo transfer (when she tries to get pregnant), and the fertility background of the woman or her partner, all need to be taken into account for an accurate estimate. This is why egg freezing success rates can be difficult to navigate, especially as there are more parts of the process to consider (thawing, fertilisation, embryo, embryo transfer, pregnancy, live birth), and each part may influence the success rate depending on how it is measured.
It’s important to have all the facts before beginning the process, and we would be happy to arrange a consultation with a fertility doctor who can walk you through the figures.
The UK has current legal limitations: a 10-year storage limit. However, this 10-year storage limit will be replaced with a right for individuals or couples who freeze eggs, sperm or embryos to be asked every 10 years if they want to keep or dispose of them, up to a maximum of 55 years. The extension will need a change in the law. However, the Department of Health and Social Care has not indicated how and when that will happen. Learn more and stay updated on The Guardian.
Eggs, sperm and embryos can all be shipped overseas with specialised couriers. You will need to ensure that from a regulatory standpoint, eggs can be exported to that country. UK fertility treatment complies with HMCA regulations. Before shipping to another country, you’ll need to ensure that the country has similar standards, and that the eggs will be used for a treatment legally permitted in the UK.
If moving the eggs abroad is not possible, you may wish to consider a remote cycle. Sometimes, clinics can collaborate so that a woman can manage the first part of a cycle in a different country, and then travel to where the eggs are frozen for the actual transfer.
The decision to freeze eggs is incredibly personal. Like in all fertility treatment, there are no 100% guarantees.
We know that as egg quality declines, it becomes much more difficult to get pregnant. Egg freezing is a safe and effective way for women to preserve the quality of their eggs at the time of freezing. The earlier it’s done, the higher the chance of working, but the combination of cost and legal storage limits mean that it’s not as simple as freezing as early as you can.
Written by our group of fertility experts and doctors consultants
Written by our group of fertility experts and doctors consultants
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