Physician assistant and reproductive endocrinologist Alberuni Zamah, MD, talk with a patient

You may not be ready to begin building your family now, but it may be a good time to start planning ahead. Eggs, embryos (eggs that have been fertilized by sperm) and sperm can be frozen and preserved for use (cryopreservation) when you are ready to build your family.

At the Center for Reproductive Medicine and Fertility, our experts can help you understand the pros and cons to each approach and choose the fertility preservation option that’s right for you.

Benefits of Preserving Your Fertility

There are several reasons for freezing eggs or embryos, including undergoing medical treatment (such as radiation or chemotherapy) that can affect your fertility. Due to the age-related decline in fertility, it is becoming increasingly common to preserve your fertility if you choose to wait before having children.

What You Need to Know About Fertility Preservation

You will undergo a process similar to IVF where you take medications to stimulate the growth and maturation of eggs. Your doctor will let you know the right time for the eggs to be collected and will remove them in an ultrasound-guided procedure. An embryologist will examine the eggs to determine whether they are mature enough to be used to create an embryo. If they are, they will then be frozen for later use.

Once your doctor has collected mature, healthy eggs, they are fertilized with sperm in a lab to create embryos. After approximately one week, the embryos can then be tested for genetic abnormalities. The healthy embryos are then frozen through vitrification, a freezing method that prevents potentially damaging ice crystals from forming inside the embryo cells. Once thawed, an embryo is ready for use.

When freezing eggs, you don’t have to worry about having or selecting sperm to fertilize them. However, this also means you will not know whether the eggs are able to be fertilized until they can be thawed, fertilized and examined.

With embryo freezing, you do need a partner or sperm donor. However, you’ll know right away if the quality of the embryos is good or not.

With either process, it is important to understand that while these are helpful resources for potentially preserving fertility, nothing is guaranteed.

Choosing when to freeze your eggs or embryos depends on the quantity of eggs you have and the expected quality of the eggs, which is based on your age. You are born with all of the eggs you will ever have, and there is a gradual decline in the number of eggs and the chromosomal quality of eggs as one ages.

Your doctor will begin by conducting an initial fertility evaluation and discussing the likelihood of pregnancy from egg or embryo freezing in your situation. In order to boost the number of eggs that can be collected for freezing — usually, only one mature egg is released by your ovaries during a monthly cycle — your doctor will ask you to self-inject hormone medication daily, for up to 14 days. This may increase the number of eggs that can be collected in a cycle. During this time, you’ll make regular visits to your doctor, who will use ultrasound and blood tests to monitor how you’re responding to your fertility medication and whether eggs are growing.

Some cancer treatments can have a negative impact on the ovaries or testes. However, having a child after cancer can be safe and is possible — especially with some planning. Many cancer patients have a brief opportunity to deal with fertility issues before cancer treatment must begin, so our specialists are ready to intervene quickly. We offer numerous options for cancer patients seeking to preserve their fertility, including egg, sperm and embryo banking, fertility-sparing surgery and radical vaginal trachelectomy.

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Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility