California fertility doctor Robert Anderson, M.D., founded the Southern California Center for Reproductive Medicine (SCCRM) in 1992. This center was the first independent IVF center in Orange County, California located outside a hospital. He brought the technology for Blastocyst culturing to Orange County resulting in the first live births of babies from fresh and frozen blastocysts.
With over 25 years experience in the field of Reproductive Medicine, Dr. Anderson has developed a highly successful approach to the treatment of every type of fertility problem. He recently answered questions about egg freezing at SCCRM.
How long has SCCRM been performing egg freezing?
SCCRM has been freezing eggs since 2003 by two different methods. We initially used a slow freezing method but since 2009 have been exclusively using vitrification which has proven to be much more efficacious.
Who are you offering egg freezing services to? What types of patients?
Egg freezing is offered to several categories of patients. Single women with a cancer whose treatment may result in loss of eggs are one group. Another is any woman who doesn’t have a desire to become pregnant in the near future but would like to preserve her fertility knowing that it may be several years before she is ready to conceive. Egg freezing is occasionally used in situations where a couple feels that embryo freezing is not in accordance with their particular religious or ethical beliefs. When there is an unexpected complication arising from an IVF cycle such as inability to obtain sperm on the day of an egg retrieval, eggs may be frozen. We don’t use egg freezing in cases of egg donation however as the use of fresh donor eggs results in a much higher rate of pregnancy.
What does your clinic consider the optimal age for egg freezing? What are the other criteria? Do you have a cut-off age?
Egg freezing is best performed when women are young, such as in their twenties. However, many women who are interested in egg freezing to preserve fertility may find themselves much older than the optimum age yet it still may be a better option than taking their chances later in life. Most women that freeze eggs in our program are in their mid to late thirties. Our cutoff age would be 45 since we know there are no normal eggs at this age but it is probably inadvisable to freeze eggs over 40 since less than 10% are normal at that age.
Once eggs are frozen, where are they stored?
Once eggs are frozen they are stored in our laboratory in tanks of liquid nitrogen just like frozen embryos.
How long do you feel eggs can be stored safely?
We don’t know for sure with the newest technology how long eggs are viable once frozen but we believe that it is probably many years. We have had embryos become pregnancies with the older, less effective technology more than 10 years from the freezing date. There are reports of a pregnancy after 20 years of freezing. We think that the eggs would certainly be viable for as long as the person freezing them would require.
Is there a cut-off age that you recommend for women to have eggs thawed, fertilized and transferred in a cycle?
Realistically there is probably the same cutoff age for using frozen eggs as there would be for any other form of fertility treatment. This age is debatable among programs ranging from 50-55 years of age as long as the person is healthy and undergoes the appropriate medical screening. Most women will use their frozen eggs at much younger ages however.
Has your clinic had live births from frozen eggs? How many?
We conducted a comparative study between slow freezing and vitrification in 2009 using egg donors as subjects. These frozen eggs were later thawed and donated to couples who couldn’t afford traditional egg donation. We had a 55% pregnancy rate with the eggs that had been frozen with vitification from that study. We have had other couples deliver babies from their frozen eggs since that time. Most cancer patients have not used their eggs yet however.
What is the price range for freezing eggs, and what does that range cover?
Egg freezing costs about the same as traditional IVF and ranges from $11,000 – $13,000. This covers the entire cost of the medications, stimulation procedure, egg retrieval, freezing and storage costs for the first year. There are additional costs when the eggs are later thawed and fertilized for use.
What are the reasons a woman would NOT be a good candidate for freezing her eggs?
A woman would not be a good candidate for egg freezing if they are older or show signs of diminished ovarian reserve. However each situation is unique and comparison should be made to what the alternative to egg freezing might be for each individual who is considering it.
What is the most exciting aspect of ASRM lifting the experimental label? How do you think this will change the face of fertility treatment?
The lifting of the experimental label from egg freezing will hopefully open up this form of fertility preservation to many more women who might benefit from it. As we obtain more experience with this procedure the likelihood of success should increase over time as well.
What should a woman look for in a clinic that does egg freezing?
When a woman is looking for a clinic to freeze her eggs it is important to find one that has a long experience performing the procedure and a proven track record with live births to demonstrate that it is a viable option in their hands. Most successful clinics have adopted vitrification as the method of choice. It should be pointed out that just because the experimental label has been lifted does not mean that every clinic is proficient in successful egg freezing. It is also known that there are some women whose eggs freeze very well and others whose do not do as well even in a clinic that has a lot of experience with it.