Cancer Women's Health Mar 19, 2024

Preserving Your Fertility

UT Health Austin reproductive and infertility specialists provide expert guidance on egg freezing

Reviewed by: Sarah Felderhoff, MSN, APRN, and Winifred Mak, MD, PhD
Written by: Kaylee Fang

A young woman in a blue shirt tying at a laptop at her desk with a cup of coffee nearby. Her environment is brightly lit by a large window.

Navigating the complexities of fertility and family planning can be a daunting, especially when life’s unexpected twists and turns come into play. In the pursuit of personal and professional aspirations, individuals often find themselves contemplating the future of their family-building endeavors.

Fortunately, advancements in reproductive medicine offer innovative solutions to empower individuals to take control of their fertility timeline. Explore expert insights from UT Health Austin reproductive specialists, who offer invaluable guidance for those embarking on this transformative journey.

What is egg freezing?

“Egg freezing, also known as oocyte cryopreservation, is the process of collecting, freezing, and storing eggs for later use,” explains Winifred Mak, MD, PhD, a reproductive endocrinologist and infertility specialist who is a part of both UT Health Austin’s Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility care team and UT Health Austin’s Cancer Fertility Preservation care team. “Egg freezing is no longer considered an experimental procedure by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM), and elective egg freezing provides individuals with the opportunity to explore the potential of starting a family later in life.”

“Egg freezing also offers hope to those who may face fertility challenges in the future, especially individuals undergoing chemotherapy or radiation treatment for cancer therapy,” continues Sarah Felderhoff, MSN, APRN, an advanced practice registered nurse in both Women’s Health, a clinical partnership between Ascension Seton and UT Health Austin, and UT Health Austin’s Livestrong Cancer Institutes. “These medical procedures can significantly impact fertility and increase the risk of early menopause, making egg freezing a viable option before starting treatment. Whether you’re at the beginning or nearing the end of your cancer journey, you can take control of your future family-building decisions without a diagnosis getting in the way.”

What does the process of egg freezing entail?

“When preparing for egg retrieval, hormone injections are administered to stimulate the ovaries, allowing multiple eggs to develop simultaneously,” notes Dr. Mak. “A common misconception is that you’re more likely to run out of eggs when collecting multiple eggs at once. Instead, we’re rescuing the follicles, which contain the eggs, to grow along with that one egg you ovulate each month.”

“Once the follicles reach a certain size, the eggs can be collected from the ovaries through a minimally invasive procedure under light sedation,” continues Felderhoff. “The entire process lasts around 2 to 3 weeks. During that time, the patient will come in for frequent ultrasounds and blood work to closely monitor their lab results and follicle growth.”

“After the eggs are retrieved, the eggs will be examined to determine which are mature,” adds Dr. Mak. “Only mature eggs can be frozen in liquid nitrogen tanks and stored for future use. The number of frozen and viable eggs developed during ovarian stimulation will vary based on each person.”

How does egg freezing differ from natural conception?

“In natural conception, fertilization occurs within the body,” shares Dr. Mak. “With egg freezing, fertilization takes place in a laboratory setting through in-vitro fertilization (IVF). When the individual is ready to conceive, the eggs will be thawed and combined with the partner or donor sperm to create embryos.”

“Embryos are ready for implantation after developing in an incubator for five days,” adds Felderhoff. “If the patient desires to use their eggs to achieve pregnancy, one or more embryos will be transferred to their uterus through a procedure known as an embryo transfer.”

What are the potential effects and risks associated with egg freezing?

“The common effects of egg freezing are similar to ovarian stimulation for IVF,” explains Dr. Mak. “These effects are driven by increased estrogen levels and include symptoms, such as bloating, irritability, cramping, and hot and cold flashes, that stem from hormone injections administered at the outset of the process. If 10 follicles develop during the egg retrieval process, that’s 10 times the amount produced as compared to a natural cycle. This results in a hormonal imbalance that causes hormonal symptoms, such as breast tenderness and moodiness.”

“Ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS) is a condition that you may experience when the ovaries adversely react adversely to an excess of hormones,” continues Felderhoff. “This reaction can lead to the ovaries expanding and swelling, accompanied by significant fluid accumulation in the pelvis and abdomen, resulting in bloating. Close monitoring through ultrasound is crucial to minimize this risk. If you experience difficulty eating or drinking due to the pressure from the fluid pushing against your abdomen, it’s important to seek immediate assistance from a healthcare provider.”

“There is also a possibility of bleeding and infection with any procedure,” adds Felderhoff. “During egg retrieval, there’s a low risk of puncturing internal organs, such as the bowel, bladder, or uterus, though this is rare. Overall, egg freezing is generally considered safe.”

“We counsel our patients about the risks, side effects, and even benefits associated with egg freezing to ensure we place our patients’ goals and needs at the forefront of their care,” shares Dr. Mak.

Is egg freezing a guarantee of future pregnancy?

“There’s no guarantee that egg freezing will lead to pregnancy,” notes Dr. Mak. “While egg freezing offers the potential to conceive later in life, factors such as egg quality, sperm quality, and the success of the IVF process can influence the outcome. It’s essential for individuals considering egg freezing to discuss their options with their care team.”

Learn more about how you can increase your chances of achieving a pregnancy through egg freezing.

<br>For more information about UT Health Austin’s Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility service or to request an appointment, call 1-833-UT-CARES (1-833-882-2737) or visit here.

About UT Health Austin

UT Health Austin is the clinical practice of the Dell Medical School at The University of Texas at Austin. We collaborate with our colleagues at the Dell Medical School and The University of Texas at Austin to utilize the latest research, diagnostic, and treatment techniques, allowing us to provide patients with an unparalleled quality of care. Our experienced healthcare professionals deliver personalized, whole-person care of uncompromising quality and treat each patient as an individual with unique circumstances, priorities, and beliefs. Working directly with you, your care team creates an individualized care plan to help you reach the goals that matter most to you — in the care room and beyond. For more information, call us at 1-833-UT-CARES or request an appointment here.

About the Partnership Between UT Health Austin and Ascension Seton

The collaboration between UT Health Austin and Ascension brings together medical professionals, medical school learners, and researchers who are all part of the integrated mission of transforming healthcare delivery and redesigning the academic health environment to better serve society. This collaboration allows highly specialized providers who are at the forefront of the latest research, diagnostic, and technological developments to build an integrated system of care that is a collaborative resource for clinicians and their patients.