Freezing eggs no guarantee of giving birth, researchers say

Dalhousie researcher says doctors can help women make informed decision on egg freezing by pointing out medical risks, high financial costs

Pichi Chuang/Reuters

Pichi Chuang/Reuters

TORONTO – Researchers say women thinking of having their eggs frozen to preserve fertility should be aware there is no guarantee they will be able to have a baby.

Angel Petropanagos of Dalhousie University says primary-care physicians can help women make an informed decision about “social” egg freezing by pointing out the medical risks and high financial costs.

A woman’s eggs can be retrieved following hormonal stimulation of the ovaries, then flash-frozen and stored.

Each stimulation cycle can cost $5,000 to $10,000 and annual storage fees range from $300 to $500, depending on the clinic.

Petropanagos says U.S. statistics show the IVF pregnancy rate using frozen and thawed eggs is 4.5 to 12 per cent among women who had their ova preserved before age 30.

But she says the rates of pregnancy and live births decline when a woman freezes her eggs at an older age.

Egg freezing has been used for some time to preserve fertility in young women and girls treated for cancer. But some women who perhaps have not yet met a suitable partner are also electing to cryo-preserve their ova.

“It’s really getting marketed like it’s a back-up plan, it’s insurance,” says Petropanagos, a post-doctoral fellow at the Halifax university.

“The problem is that the success rate isn’t really that great. It’s not guaranteed, so you can spend all this time, energy and money investing in egg freezing and think you’re covered and when it comes down to it 10 years down the line, the IVF won’t result in a live birth.

“Some women might understand that, that it’s still a gamble. But depending on how this is marketed, some women might see this as a guarantee when it’s really not.”

Petropanagos says IVF to get pregnant also carries a number of risks, including multiple births, premature delivery and low birth-weight babies.

The researchers’ analysis is published Monday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

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