Whether by choice, or by other circumstances such as certain health conditions, fertility preservation works in many ways similar to an insurance policy. We can think of banked sperm, eggs or embryos as the most precious asset an individual or couple might have since they all have the potential of becoming a well being and therefore represent the potential start of a family.
In today’s world many of us choose to start our families later in life; unfortunately, our reproductive lives tend to end much earlier than our chronologic lives.
The process of freezing and storing reproductive cells while preserving their viability for later use is known as cryopreservation, or fertility preservation. These technologies have improved significantly since the 1950’s when the first births with frozen-thawed sperm were reported.
In most instances, the tissue sample whether is an egg, sperm or an embryo is mixed with a special solution that protects the cells from damage caused by extremely low storage temperatures, the tissue is then placed in a special container properly labeled, and subsequently frozen and stored in liquid nitrogen in securely monitored storage tanks which maintain a temperature of -320 degrees F. Under these conditions, all metabolic activity in the cells stops and they undergo a permanent “dormant state” which allows for temporary storage.
Sperm cryopreservation revolutionized the field of assisted reproduction as it allowed men whose fertility might be in danger to protect their reproductive potential. You may not be thinking about becoming a father at this time; in fact, you may have no plans whatsoever for becoming a father. Regardless of how you currently feel, sperm banking is something you need to consider. The process is very simple and might save you significant mental and emotional anguish in the future.
Frequently, men will seek qualified help with sperm cryopreservation under the following circumstances:
- Before undergoing surgeries (i.e. prostate surgery), and treatments (i.e cancer treatments). Impotence and/or infertility can be an unfortunate side effect of these. Testicular cancer is the most common cancer in men between 15 to 40 years old. In addition, malignant diseases such as Hodgkin’s disease, leukemia and others often affect young men who are not even considering yet the start of their own families.
- Prior to taking certain medications which will affect sperm production (i.e. certain blood pressure medications).
- If the male partner is absent during the time of reproductive treatments to ensure availability of sperm at the critical time of the procedures
- Men who work in high risk occupations which might affect fertility, such as exposure to environment contaminants, biological agents, herbicides, pesticides, radiation, and other pollutants. Also, men who work in law enforcement, fire, safety and construction workers, the military and athletes in high impact sports.
- As vasectomy insurance. Sperm freezing prior to a vasectomy provides fertility preservation and eliminates the need for further surgery. Vasectomy reversal surgeries do not always work in terms of full restoration of fertility.
- Men who have low sperm counts or low sperm quality. Infertility problems affect men and women equally.
Infectious Disease Screening
Men who bank sperm for future use are required to have testing for infectious and sexually transmitted diseases (HIV, Hepatitis). You may elect to have these tests performed at our facility or have them done at your primary physician’s office. Proof of results must be provided within a week of processing of your sperm samples.
The storage of frozen eggs is an important option to be considered by many women. Our center was amongst the first few in South Florida providing this fertility preserving service. A large number of women with age related infertility feel very frustrated with the fact that they did not fully understand the effect of chronologic age on reproductive ability. For many years now, the procedure of elective egg (oocyte) freezing has been proposed as the solution to this problem. With egg freezing and cryostorage, a woman can have her eggs frozen and stored when she is much younger, preferably at peak reproductive age, and she can then give herself more freedom and flexibility over her reproductive choices while focusing on pursuing other life goals.
Although great strides have been made, egg freezing is still considered experimental technology with much room for improvement. Obstacles to success with egg freezing included problems with ice crystal formation that led to intracellular damage and poor egg survival rates upon thawing of the eggs. However, the use of techniques such as vitrification has led to a dramatic improvement in egg survival, fertilization rates, and pregnancy rates. In 2007 we achieved what we believe were the first two pregnancies with frozen-thawed eggs in South Florida.
There have been a few thousand births from egg freezing reported worldwide. Between 2006 and 2009 center was part of a large multicenter egg cryopreservation study looking at newer approaches to egg freezing. Based on that initial experience combined with our own successes, we are pleased to offer this option.
Women interested in egg freezing must be familiar with the following:
- Not every woman is a good candidate for egg freezing. Women who already have significantly decreased ovarian reserve (poor egg quality) may not benefit from egg freezing. We do not recommend egg freezing for patients over 40 years old, or those whose ovarian reserve tests come back severely abnormal. Additionally, young women (under age 30) need to carefully consider whether freezing eggs will be of later benefit to them. These women are more likely to conceive without assistance because they have many more years to conceive naturally. A significant percentage of infertility is simply due to the modern trend of women choosing to delay childbearing.
- Egg freezing requires ovarian stimulation and egg retrieval. Current protocols require the freezing of multiple mature eggs to have a realistic chance of conception. In a natural menstrual cycle, only one egg is released each month. Therefore, patients undergoing elective oocyte cryopreservation are given medications to produce multiple eggs in a single cycle (same treatment protocols as infertile IVF patients). To appropriately time the egg retrieval, frequent office visits are required for blood tests and transvaginal ultrasound to monitor the development of the eggs. The eggs are retrieved by placing a needle through the back of the vagina into the ovary. This is an outpatient procedure performed under anesthesia.
- Freezing eggs is not a guarantee of future pregnancy. Since egg freezing is an emerging technology, it is difficult to accurately assess the chance for pregnancy and delivery. Based on published data, largely from donor egg cycles, it is estimated that a single egg that is warmed from the vitrification method has a 4% chance of resulting in a live birth. These rates may be lower in women over the age of 32 since fertility is known to decline with advancing age and age is not the only determinant of egg quality. More recent reports and our own current experience suggest live birth rates will improve as techniques and protocols are refined.
Oocyte cryopreservation, represents a significant advancement over current options for women who plan to delay conception. As with all assisted reproductive techniques, further study and experience will clarify the risks and benefits of egg freezing. Call us today to learn more about fertility preservation Plantation.