The American Society for Reproductive Medicine has determined that the freezing and thawing of egg cells is now a proven method for preserving a woman’s ability to have children, removing the technique’s “experimental” label in a report released this week.
The report, which is a review of a large number of studies analyzing the success of the procedure and its risks, finds that egg freezing and thawing before fertilization works just as well as the fresh eggs commonly used in in vitro fertilization.
What’s more, a review of more than 900 births from frozen eggs found no increased risk of birth defects or DNA abnormalities.
The technique has received plenty of attention as a way for women to put off childbearing until later in life-whether to pursue a career or because they have yet to find the right mate. But the ASRM continues to view the primary purpose of egg freezing to be the preservation of eggs for young women about to undergo chemotherapy or radiation, which can do serious damage to the ovaries.
The report also lists other potential reasons a woman may wish to freeze her eggs. For couples attempting in vitro fertilization, for example, two studies have shown that freezing eggs can be useful in cases where the man is unable to produce sperm on the day of egg retrieval-either because of severe male infertility or because it’s just not his day.
The ASRM also believes egg freezing is a good option for couples undergoing in vitro fertilization who want to improve their chances without freezing embryos, a practice some find ethically objectionable.
For healthy women who choose to freeze their eggs simply to hit pause on their biological clocks, the ASRM report has a reminder: Make sure you do it while you’re young. Eggs frozen in a woman’s late 30s or early 40s, for example, have a far lower success rate than eggs frozen during a woman’s 20s.
Even still, the procedure is no sure thing: Only about half of the egg transfers lead to a successful pregnancy, and that number decreases with the age of the patient.
Even as they remove the experimental label, the ASRM report has a strong message for doctors who encourage such procedures for their patients who undergo egg freezing to stop the clock: “Marketing this technology for the purpose of deferring childbearing may give women false hope and encourage women to delay childbearing,” the report says.
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