Clinical Review

Freezing the biological clock: A 2023 update on preserving fertility

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Planned oocyte cryopreservation

With advances in ART, POC offers patients the opportunity to preserve fertility until desired. However, despite its potential benefits, POC compels the discussion of various considerations in addition to oncofertility, such as ethical concerns and insurance coverage.

CASE 2 Woman plans for elective egg freezing

A 32-year-old single, professional woman is advancing in her career and wishes to delay childbearing. She is concerned about the potential for age-related fertility decline and wants to explore the option of elective egg freezing. Emily has no medical conditions that would impair her fertility, but she wants to ensure that she has the option of having biological children in the future. She is unsure about the potential financial burden of the procedure and whether her employer’s insurance covers such elective procedures.

How do you counsel her about her options?

Medical considerations

Approximately 25% of reproductive-aged women have considered POC.18 An analysis revealed POC was more cost-effective than delaying procreation and undergoing IVF with preimplantation genetic testing for aneuploidies at an advanced reproductive age.19

The process of planned oocyte cryopreservation. POC involves ovarian stimulation, usually with parenteral gonadotropins, to produce multiple mature oocytes for same-day cryopreservation following transvaginal retrieval, typically in an office-based surgery center as an outpatient procedure while the patient is under IV sedation. While the procedure has been proven effective, there are inherent risks and limitations. The success rates of subsequent fertility treatments using the cryopreserved eggs are influenced by the woman’s age at the time of freezing, the number of mature oocytes retrieved and vitrified, and the quality of the oocytes following thaw. A recent study reported a 70% live-birth rate in women aged less than 38 years who cryopreserved ≥ 20 mature eggs.20 To increase the number of cryopreserved oocytes, multiple egg retrievals or “batching” may be of benefit for women with diminished ovarian reserve.21

It is important for clinicians to thoroughly assess a patient’s medical history, ovarian reserve (by antral follicle count and levels of anti-müllerian hormone [AMH]), and reproductive goals before recommending proceeding with POC. Of note, AMH is a useful marker for ovarian reserve but has not been shown to predict natural fertility. Its value is in providing a guide to the dosage of ovarian stimulation and an estimation of the number of oocytes to be retrieved. Per ASRM, “Extremely low AMH values should not be used to refuse treatment in IVF.” AMH levels and antral follicle count have only a weak association with such qualitative outcomes as oocyte quality, clinical pregnancy rates, and live birth rates. Complications from egg retrieval, both short and long term, are rare. The inherent risk from POC is the lack of a guaranteed subsequent live birth.22

Ethical and social considerations

POC raises several ethical considerations, including concerns of perpetuating societal pressure on women to defer procreation to prioritize their careers over family planning.23 Despite controversies, POC appears as a chosen strategy against age-related infertility and may allow women to feel that they are more socially, psychologically, and financially stable before pursuing motherhood.24 Open and honest discussions between clinicians and patients are crucial to ensure informed decision making and address these ethical concerns.

Per an ACOG statement from February 2023 ( “...egg freezing is recommended mainly for patients having cancer treatment that will affect their future fertility. There is not enough research to recommend routine egg freezing for the sole purpose of delaying childbearing.”

A recent survey of patients who had elected egg freezing at some point included more than 80% who were aged 35 or older, and revealed that 93% of the survey participants had not yet returned to use their frozen oocytes.25 The most common reason cited in the survey for a delay in attempted procreation was lack of a partner. Another reason was undergoing oocyte cryopreservation after an optimal reproductive age, with participants concluding that they felt they had improved their reproductive future after undergoing oocyte cryopreservation and feeling empowered by the process. As part of counseling, women should be informed of the possibility of not utilizing their frozen eggs in the future, whether due to natural conception or other personal reasons.

Continue to: Employer insurance coverage...


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