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More than half of fertility clinics now freeze eggs

Wary of low success rates, many fertility clinics have been leery of freezing  and storing women's eggs for future use. But faced with rising demand and better outcomes, more than half of U.S. clinics now offer the service.
/ Source: Reuters

Because of low success rates, many fertility clinics have traditionally been reluctant to freeze and store eggs until a woman was ready to use them. In response to increasing demand, and with clinics reporting higher success rates, more than half of U.S. clinics will now do so, a new study reports.

Women about to have certain cancer therapies are most often the ones who use this option, which has been available for about 20 years. But two out of every three egg-freezing clinics will provide it to women who simply want to preserve their fertility while putting off having kids.

"It's kind of an insurance against one's biological clock," lead researcher Dr. Briana Rudick of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles told Reuters Health in an e-mail. "It almost allows a woman to serve as her own egg donor in the future, should she not have met Mr. Right and started a family by then."

Rudick and her colleagues surveyed 282 clinics across the U.S., of which 143 said they offer egg freezing. Another quarter said they plan to offer it in the near future, with most of the rest pointing to a lack of demand as their main reason for holding back.

Some clinics limit freezing
But not all clinics that freeze eggs offer the procedure to just any woman who walks in the door. The researchers found that a third restrict the option to cancer patients or as an alternative to freezing leftover embryos for women attempting in vitro fertilization. And while two-thirds of those clinics that offer it will do so electively, no more than a third will provide it to women over 40 years old.

Yet, overall, acceptance of this two-decade-old technology is growing rapidly, the researchers report in the medical journal Fertility and Sterility.

Among the centers studied, the procedure led to a pregnancy rate of 39 percent, which at least among younger women is similar to pregnancy rates achieved using frozen embryos. (Live birth rates are generally lower than pregnancy rates, however.) Rudick says the pregnancy rates with frozen eggs are getting closer to rates with standard in vitro fertilization using fresh eggs.

Cost: $10,000 to $12,000
The total price tag for egg freezing, including the medications, procedure and storage, is about $10,000 to $12,000, she said. Most clinics include a year of storage in their fee; beyond that they may charge more. Warming the eggs and transferring them to the woman's uterus will cost roughly another $5000. (More than one transfer may be required to become pregnant.)

By comparison, an in vitro fertilization cycle (which includes retrieval, culturing, and transfer of eggs) costs about $12,000 to $15,000.

Women who are freezing their eggs before cancer therapy may be able to have the cost reimbursed at least partially.

Whether egg or embryo, fresh or frozen, each technology still has its place, said Rudick.

For now, fresh eggs continue to result in slightly higher pregnancy and birth rates, especially for older woman. But frozen eggs give more leeway in terms of timing, she said, while dodging ethical concerns over the use of embryos. They also open the door to potential social implications.

"Will an increasing number of women delay childbearing knowing that this technology exists? I don't know," said Rudick. "It will be interesting to see."