Articles for young women / 17 Mar, 2020

The facts on embryo cryopreservation

Icon Writers

Embryo cryopreservation for women with cancer

At the time of a cancer diagnosis, many women acknowledge that they want a child in the future or to add more children to their family. In both cases, embryo cryopreservation is a recommended fertility option to explore.

If you’re under 35-years-old, your chances of becoming pregnant are much higher than women over 35. However, if you’ve recently been diagnosed with cancer, your reproductive potential can decrease following chemotherapy treatment due to likely damage to your ovaries.

Embryo cryopreservation is a fertility treatment worth considering before beginning your cancer treatment to preserve your fertility.

Embryo cryopreservation is the process of freezing a woman’s embryos. This involves the retrieval of eggs which are then fertilized in vitro, frozen and stored in liquid nitrogen for future use. Once a women is ready to become a mother, the embryos will be thawed and inserted into her uterus.1 This is currently considered the gold standard in fertility preservation. Embryo cryopreservation is suitable for married women who would like to have a family in the future, especially when their fertility may have been impacted by treatment such as chemotherapy, radiation treatment to the pelvis or surgical procedures than can damage the ovaries.

The embryo freezing process

The embryo freezing process incorporates three different phases: stimulation, egg retrieval and fertilisation, and cryopreservation. A fertility specialist will conduct an initial assessment to determine the number of viable eggs available for retrieval through blood tests and pelvic ultrasound.

Stimulation

Ovarian stimulation begins with injecting hormones using the in vitro fertilisation (IVF) method for approximately 14 days. The stimulation medications may be self-administered through a pen device and small needle, which your specialist will teach you how to perform.2

Egg retrieval

This procedure is performed under light anaesthetic or sedation. An ultrasound guided probe is inserted into the vagina to collect the eggs. Inside the probe, a needle passes through the vaginal wall into the ovary and the eggs are aspirated.3 Being a short process (taking up to 2-hours), you may return home that day. Once eggs are retrieved, they will be fertilised the same day.

Vitrification

A microscopic assessment of the embryos is performed before being cryopreserved. The embryos are then frozen using rapid cooling and placed into liquid nitrogen for storage.

Risk of embryo cryopreservation

Some women run the risk of Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome (OHSS)—the enlargement of the ovaries and fluid pool in the abdomen and pelvis. If left untreated, this can be a potentially serious condition.

Frequently asked questions

Does the egg retrieval process hurt?

Most patients report minimal discomfort during the procedure. Minor post-operative discomfort is to be expected, with cramping being the most common symptom.

Do I have time to undergo embryo cryopreservation before my treatment starts?

The procedure is time sensitive and must be completed as quickly as possible so as not to delay your treatment and compromise your cancer outcome. Please speak to your oncologist and fertility specialist about timing of this procedure and your treatment.

What’s the best number of embryos to store?

Your fertility specialist will advise you on the optimum number of embryos to freeze for each attempt at pregnancy.

What is the quality of thawed embryos?

When thawed, frozen embryos are generally of high quality.

What does cryopreservation cost?

The cost of cryopreservation fertility treatment will vary and also depends on your insurance coverage. Your oncologist will connect you with a suitable fertility specialist to discuss your needs and the costs involved.

References

For a full list of references, click here.
  1. Elective Egg Freezing and Fertility Preservation. Brigham Health. Retrieved 12th March, 2020. https://www.brighamandwomens.org/obgyn/infertility-reproductive-surgery/fertility-preservation
  2. Egg Freezing. Virtus Fertility Centre. Retrieved 12th March, 2020. https://www.virtusfertilitycentre.com.sg/fertility-services/female-fertility-preservation
  3. Egg Freezing FAQs. USC Fertility. Retrieved 12th March, 2020. https://uscfertility.org/egg-freezing-faqs/
Back to Articles

Search