Co-authored by Jake Anderson-Bialis, co-founder of FertilityIQ
This week a new study was published about fertility success rates. Despite being pretty similar to data that's been available online for months, it spurred an avalanche of press declaring that egg freezing is useless, with article titles like "Delaying Motherhood by Freezing Eggs Could Harm Birth Chances." The problem is, that's just not what the study said. In reality, this study makes egg freezing technology look like a pretty good bet.
To start, let's get a few facts straight on the study. Lead investigator, Vitaly Kushnir, only looked at data on women who received "donor" eggs from other women. This included two cohorts: women who received eggs that were fresh, and women who received eggs that had been frozen. The punchline is that women who received eggs that were freshly-harvested experienced slightly better outcomes, though the "reasons...remain to be established." One major confounder is that women who use fresh eggs often get up to three times the quantity of eggs compared to those who use frozen eggs, which could impact results.
So now on to the bigger question: what can this tell us about whether a young woman should freeze her own eggs? In this study, when donors (who are generally in their twenties and in good health) had their eggs harvested, frozen, and transferred to (usually older) women, those women delivered babies in 43% of treatment cycles. The majority of women who use donor eggs are over 40 years old, and when they try and conceive through IVF using their own fresh eggs, birth rates are 4 -12 percent per cycle.
By using frozen donor eggs from young women, rates of success per cycle nearly quadruple.
For women in their 20s who fit into a donor profile, this should turn heads. In essence, young, healthy women freezing eggs are donating them to their older selves. Is egg freezing a complete insurance policy? No, but 43 percent looks a lot more appealing than 12 percent.
Now, those are results, and for many of us, that is all that matters. But as our reviewers at FertilityIQ continually remind us, fertility treatment carries enormous costs, both financial and emotional, and those always need to be considered.
Let's take financial first. For the young woman freezing her eggs, the cost is about $15,000 and, if she uses those eggs, another $5,000 or so. If she does not use the eggs and is lucky enough to have children naturally, some could contend that's money down the drain. On the other hand, if she does not save her eggs and later undergoes multiple rounds of IVF (see those success rates above), those costs look more like $50,000 - $100,000 and they can then double if she must resort to finding an egg donor, as "donor eggs" aren't actually donated.
Now on to the emotional costs. Most women who freeze their eggs tell us they find the feeling to be liberating, though we've met few who have actually used those eggs. Alternatively, the anguish that goes with prolonged fertility treatment can be excruciating. Over half of women claim it to be "the most upsetting experience of their lives" and many women will tell you the pain compounds with every failed cycle. When couples have failed multiple cycles and then must consider using donated eggs, it carries the harsh reality of foregoing genetic ties between hopeful mom and child.
As rates of egg freezing accelerate, there is good reason to debate when it is right and for whom. This study does not tell us anything about freezing eggs from older women and those who don't have a good fertility profile. What the study does reveal is how effectively frozen eggs from younger, healthy women perform for patients who need them and how invaluable the decision to store one's own eggs, while young and healthy, could prove.