Egg-freezing: choice and risk

It has been disclosed that an Osaka woman in her 40s gave birth to a baby last year using her own frozen egg in what is believed to be the first such case in Japan involving a healthy woman. In 2014, it was reported that a 30-year-old woman gave birth to a child using an egg she had frozen 12 years earlier when she was undergoing cancer treatment that could have made her unable to reproduce.

Egg-freezing technology is drawing increased interest as a growing number of working women marry and give birth at later ages. Births using frozen eggs may increase. Still, the method involves a variety of risks. If the option is being pursued because women want to put off childbirth to avoid facing problems in their jobs, it shows the need for creating a socioeconomic environment in which women can have children at a younger age without disrupting their careers so they don’t feel forced to rely on technology that has a low success rate.

In the process of freezing eggs, oocytes (immature egg cells) are extracted from the woman. It used to be difficult to freeze and store oocytes because they are easily damaged compared with sperm or fertilized eggs. But recent technological advances have made egg preservation a viable option for people who need to undergo cancer or other treatment that will damage their ovaries but may want to have children in the future. Freezing their eggs certainly gives these women hope.

But there are also women who have begun to rely on the method because they’re too busy or don’t want to jeopardize their careers by having children, or have not yet found a partner but want to have children when they do. The Osaka woman was in the latter category. The chances of becoming pregnant decrease as women reach their late 30s due to the aging of their eggs. If women have their eggs frozen at an earlier date, the chances of them being able to have a child later in life increase. Interest is growing in this method as more Japanese women marry and give birth at later ages. In 2013 these figures were 29.3 and 30.4, respectively — about four years later than in 1980, according to a 2015 government report.

The Osaka woman had her eggs frozen on several occasions before she got married, thawed the eggs in 2014 and became pregnant through in vitro fertilization (IVF) using her husband’s sperm. But her outcome should be seen as luck. The track record of the Osaka clinic shows that chances of becoming pregnant by using frozen eggs are not high. The clinic has frozen eggs from some 230 healthy women since 2010. Of the 17 women who went through an IVF procedure, only the Osaka woman succeeded in becoming pregnant and giving birth.

The success rate of IVF itself is low. In addition, the pregnancy rate drops further if the eggs used are from older women. Even if such eggs are successfully fertilized, the functions of the uterus and other organs weaken as women age, reducing the chance of a successful birth. If women give birth at an advanced age, the medical risks to their bodies and babies are higher compared to those of younger women. The process of extracting eggs also puts women at risk of adverse reactions as they must take drugs to stimulate ovulation and then undergo an invasive procedure to harvest the eggs. The total cost of extraction, freezing, storage of eggs and the IVF procedure is also quite high — the Osaka woman reportedly paid ¥300,000 to ¥500,000 for one round of egg extraction — because the procedure is not covered by public health insurance. Despite the risks involved in freezing eggs, however, some local governments and businesses are financially supporting women who want to use the method.

Medical societies have expressed mixed views on the method. A panel under the Japan Society of Obstetrics and Gynecology last year said that it does not recommend freezing eggs for future pregnancy regardless of the woman’s age, citing the risk of complications such as hypertension and noting that the possible effects on the health of babies born from frozen eggs remain uncertain. One panel member asserted that the availability of egg-freezing technology could lead women to postpone childbirth. In 2014, the same society allowed egg-freezing for women who are certain to lose ovarian functions due to cancer treatment or radiation therapy. In 2013, the Japan Society for Reproductive Medicine issued a guideline allowing egg-freezing for women below the age of 40, including those who have no health problems, citing technological advances.

The right of women to have their eggs frozen should be respected. The important thing is that they do so by fully taking into consideration the method’s advantages and risks. Medical societies and associations should collect relevant data and present reliable information on various aspects of egg-freezing, including the success rate, risks and cost so that women can fully understand the method and make an informed decision.

  • Iris

    One British woman became known, when the story of her
    extraordinary motherhood was published in one popular
    newspaper. The article titled “Poverty behind child trafficking”
    told how 62 years old woman used donor oocytes (female
    reproductive cells) and gave birth to a healthy baby boy.
    In England, women after 50 years cannot pass such a procedure,
    therefore woman went to Kiev. She paid about 10 thousand dollars
    for the services of an anonymous donor and IVF (in vitro fertilization) procedure. According to the World Health Organization 17% of
    couples in the world suffer from the infertility being in reproductive
    age. For many women with gynecological pathologies or genetic
    abnormalities, IVF and donor eggs are the only chance to become
    a mother. However, in many European countries egg donation is
    prohibited. And according to the laws of Great Britain, the Netherlands
    and Sweden, the procedure cannot be anonymous, which reduces
    the number of potential donors at times. It is for this reason many
    foreigners ask for help in Ukraine.

    • Hanna

      I read one survey, which was conducted by the portal
      about pregnancy and conception planning and it showed
      that 45% of Ukrainian women agree to donate own eggs,
      yet 23% cannot say for sure until they receive concrete
      proposals. Although the Ministry of Health warns that the
      procedure that takes place more than five times can be
      dangerous for woman’s health. I also read one of such
      stories when one Frenchwoman became a mother of a
      healthy boy thanks to an anonymous donor from Ukraine.
      Initially, her parents and her husband were against of such
      procedure: they were afraid that half of the genetic material
      of a child is from an unknown woman. But woman urged
      relatives to support her decision. She found a great donor
      in the biotexcom clinic and conducted there successful IVF
      procedure. On her way to Kiev medical center she overcame
      her certain doubts, but her husband said everything will be
      great and it was so.

      • Daphne

        Oh, I know this story! I read the interview by this woman. She confessed that before delivery she worried, but after the child was born all her fears went away. Recently, she and her husband visited Ukraine once again and went to the biotexcom medical fertility center where two years ago they have passed IVF with donor eggs. It is so warm and positive story indeed. Now this couple wants and plans a second baby. The woman told that there was a time when in the hospital in the waiting room she saw a woman with a little child, and he looks like her own son. Then she first thought that her son may have brother or sister. It is great clinic that people come back again and again in order to repeat their successful program using the assisted reproductive technologies. I know that clinic uses fresh biological material therefore it is needed minimum number of in vitro fertilization attempts in order to reach positive pregnancy. In addition due to the fact it is used not frozen material children are born healthy and without problems.

      • Aurora

        Yes, it is really good center for human reproduction. I also was there and also used donor eggs in order to get pregnant. It was needed only two in vitro fertilization attempts and I became pregnant. They offered me a great base of donors where I was able to choose the best one for me. They provided me with all kinds of services related to the selection of donors and work with her. The biotexcom clinic checks the mental and physical condition of each their donor. In addition women who become donors have the legal right to hide private information as donation in Ukraine is anonymous. The procedure of hormones’ stimulation does not give side effects. All medicines in the clinic are qualitative and legal; therefore there is no threat to health. I can recommend this center to everyone who needs legal and successful surrogate motherhood or egg donation procedure.

      • Adalyn

        My gynecologist in local medical center has explained me that the average woman’s organism produces one egg per cycle (just this egg can be fertilized by the sperm). Because of this medical reason and fact strong egg stimulation is used during the donation programs. As a result of the egg stimulation procedure (which is caused using the strong medical drugs) multi ovulation happens, it means the development of a bigger number of eggs. As of women who become egg donors they can face with a certain risks – any allergic reaction towards stimulation drugs, headaches, depression, sometimes it can be inflammatory processes that lead to the disruption of the functioning of the ovaries, fallopian tubes, intestines. The most dangerous that can happen and be life-threatening complication is hyper stimulation syndrome, provoking the growth of dozens of follicles, which in turn can lead to the formation of cysts (if the follicle does not burst, releasing the egg). My doctor also added that the basic rule is to have the long breaks between treatments during the donation program. It also recommended having no more than five cycles of stimulation throughout life. It is the only way to be protected from serious consequences.

  • Iris

    One British woman became known, when the story of her
    extraordinary motherhood was published in one popular
    newspaper. The article titled “Poverty behind child trafficking”
    told how 62 years old woman used donor oocytes (female
    reproductive cells) and gave birth to a healthy baby boy.
    In England, women after 50 years cannot pass such a procedure,
    therefore woman went to Kiev. She paid about 10 thousand dollars
    for the services of an anonymous donor and IVF (in vitro fertilization) procedure. According to the World Health Organization 17% of
    couples in the world suffer from the infertility being in reproductive
    age. For many women with gynecological pathologies or genetic
    abnormalities, IVF and donor eggs are the only chance to become
    a mother. However, in many European countries egg donation is
    prohibited. And according to the laws of Great Britain, the Netherlands
    and Sweden, the procedure cannot be anonymous, which reduces
    the number of potential donors at times. It is for this reason many
    foreigners ask for help in Ukraine.

  • Iris

    One British woman became known, when the story of her
    extraordinary motherhood was published in one popular
    newspaper. The article titled “Poverty behind child trafficking”
    told how 62 years old woman used donor oocytes (female
    reproductive cells) and gave birth to a healthy baby boy.
    In England, women after 50 years cannot pass such a procedure,
    therefore woman went to Kiev. She paid about 10 thousand dollars
    for the services of an anonymous donor and IVF (in vitro fertilization) procedure. According to the World Health Organization 17% of
    couples in the world suffer from the infertility being in reproductive
    age. For many women with gynecological pathologies or genetic
    abnormalities, IVF and donor eggs are the only chance to become
    a mother. However, in many European countries egg donation is
    prohibited. And according to the laws of Great Britain, the Netherlands
    and Sweden, the procedure cannot be anonymous, which reduces
    the number of potential donors at times. It is for this reason many
    foreigners ask for help in Ukraine.

  • Mia

    It is extremely useful technology as of nowadays. Women of nowadays want to reach high levels at work, to travel and to see the world and many other things. It is known that today women prefer to postpone the child bearing. They find many other more important things. Especially it happens just so because women and men know that there are different methods of assisted reproductive medicine which can help them to have children at any age. In addition one can see and read a lot of real stories when women at the age of 60 and even 70 successfully give birth to healthy children with the help of own frozen eggs or donor eggs. It is possible everything today and things that were impossible some years ago today are just common things and procedures. Women can froze own eggs during her reproductive case and to use them at any time. The main thing is that these eggs must be frozen when woman has good health condition and doctor can recommend freezing eggs. But I know that frozen eggs cannot guarantee the successful pregnancy. I know that it is much better to use fresh eggs during the in vitro fertilization. But anyway a great number of people all over the world use frozen biological material.