Thousands of women undergo the procedure every year.
Egg freezing has taken off in the past decade, with the number of people turning to fertility preservation treatment increasing 10-fold in the UK over this period.
The process, which involves collecting a woman’s eggs, freezing them and then thawing them, has grown in popularity as more women put off having children until later in life.
But embryologist Cynthia Hudson has warned of the importance of women being fully informed if they choose to pursue fertility treatment.
She revealed to MailOnline the six things women should consider, from what age they should freeze their eggs to how much it will cost.
Egg freezing has taken off in the past decade, with the number of people turning to fertility-preserving treatment increasing 10-fold over the past decade. Pictured: test tube containing egg samples
At what age should you freeze your eggs
Ms Hudson, vice president of clinical strategy for IVF and cell management company TMRW Life Sciences, says there is no one right answer for when a woman should freeze her eggs, because every situation and every woman are different.
She said: “We know for sure that the quality of eggs declines with age, so logically the earlier you freeze them the better.
“The best chance of having a baby can be had if you are under 35 when you freeze your eggs.
“But being over 35 just means you’ll probably have to freeze more.”
The Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HFEA) says 38 is the most common age for egg freezing, but some women wait until they’re 40.
The reasons one may choose to pursue egg freezing can vary widely.
For example, one may worry about declining fertility with age but not yet be ready to have a child or receive life-saving but sterilizing medical treatment.
Whatever the reason, Ms. Hudson advises seeing your doctor as soon as possible to discuss your treatment options.
How long frozen eggs can be stored
Women in the UK can now keep their eggs frozen for up to 55 years.
This rule, which also applies to sperm and embryos, has been in place since July 2022, when the duration increased from the previous 10-year limit.
This means women in the UK are now in a better position to consider freezing their eggs at a younger age – when they have the best chance of success – as they don’t face restrictions on how long they can can keep them.
However, women will need to renew their consent for a clinic storing their eggs every 10 years.
And those who froze their eggs before July 2022 and want them stored for more than 10 years should contact their clinic to see if this is possible,
One of the most important and often overlooked things a woman should consider before freezing her eggs is storage, says Hudson.
The goal of egg freezing is to store your eggs safely for future use. She therefore urges women to ask their clinic how their eggs will be stored until they are needed.
Egg freezing should be considered an insurance policy rather than a guarantee, according to the embryologist.
Ms Hudson says it can help preserve your fertility, but it can’t promise success.
Success rates largely depend on the woman’s age at the time of freezing, but experts say what also matters is the total number of eggs available.
Just as when using fresh eggs, not all eggs will be fertilized, not all fertilized eggs will result in a viable embryo, and not all viable embryos will result in a live birth.
Success rates for those under 35 are higher than for those over 35, declining rapidly after age 40.
A US study found that the risk of live birth in women using their own frozen eggs was 39% overall, rising to 51% in those who were under 38 when they froze their eggs.
For those actively seeking parenthood with fresh eggs, further attempts at pregnancy by undergoing additional egg collection cycles may be made.
It’s critical to understand all the data and options available, says Hudson, because treatment decisions made now can determine the success of having a child in the future.
Fertility specialists can answer questions and advise accordingly.
The cost of egg freezing
The whole process, from egg freezing to thawing in the UK, costs on average between £7,000 and £8,000.
While collecting and freezing your eggs will result in a bill of around £3,350, this is only part of the process.
Hormone medications that need to be taken to stimulate egg production before the procedure cost around £500-1,500 extra.
Storage costs are extra and vary from clinic to clinic, but are usually between £125 and £350 a year, according to the HFEA.
Thawing the eggs and transferring them to the womb costs an average of £2,500.
NHS-funded treatment is available for some women who choose to freeze their eggs before cancer treatment, but the amount of funding and eligibility criteria vary.
At present, there is no NHS funding for patients who wish to freeze their eggs for other reasons, but there are other options one can pursue.
Some employers offer this type of coverage directly to their employees, while others offer financing options directly to patients.
When you want to use them, the eggs will be thawed out and those that survived intact will be injected with sperm from your partner or donor (pictured)
If some fertility clinics are better than others
When considering future fertility, Ms. Hudson insists that the choice of clinic is paramount.
The HFEA is responsible for licensing and inspecting fertility clinics in the UK, and publishes scores for each fertility clinic inspected.
Ms Hudson said it can help the decision-making process, as it gives an indication of a clinic’s success and patient reviews.
While success rates and costs are key factors, Hudson also suggests that you focus on how close the clinic is to your work or home.
She says this is because you may have to make multiple trips to the clinic, sometimes on short notice.
And you should also find out about the technology and equipment that clinics use to freeze and store your eggs, she says, because “the whole reason to freeze them now is to have them safe and available when they are. ready to use them.
What is the egg freezing process
For those considering freezing their eggs, Ms Hudson said it was vital to know what the process involves.
She said the first step is to see a fertility specialist to review the options available.
An initial evaluation will likely involve blood tests, a pelvic ultrasound, and a discussion of your medical history.
If you perform egg freezing, the first stage of the process, known as “ovarian stimulation,” will begin.
This involves hormone injections to stimulate the ovaries to produce multiple eggs rather than just one egg which is usually and naturally released each month.
This treatment involves multiple visits to the fertility clinic over a few weeks, Hudson says, with regular monitoring of your blood hormone levels and your ovaries.
When it’s time for them to come out, a healthcare professional will use an ultrasound-guided needle and, with a suction device, remove the eggs – seven to 14, on average, for women under 38 – ovarian follicles.
The extracted eggs will be transported to the lab, evaluated and quickly frozen by an embryologist – using a super-fast procedure called vitrification – then usually placed in a vial containing liquid nitrogen.
Storage at very cold temperatures, below -150C (-238F), allows the eggs to remain viable for later use.
When you want to use them, the eggs will be thawed and those that survive intact will be injected with your partner’s or donor’s sperm.