Inside Infertility: Egg freezing offers new possibilities
COLUMBIA- Aging can be a taboo subject, but when it comes to infertility it's one that has to be brought up.
"This is usually the 600 pound gorilla in the room," Dr. Gil Wilshire said. "People are afraid to bring it up, so I bring it up right away. Here it is, the inevitable biology of aging. Fertility falls, and once you get out of your 20s fertility starts falling significantly. At age 40, it falls like a rock."
Despite biology many woman are waiting longer to have kids. According to the Centers for Disease Control 20% of women in the U.S. now have their first child after age 35. About 1/3 of those women have fertility problems. Generally, doctors recommend seeing a specialist if you've tried for a year without getting pregnant, but if your 35 or older they say to only wait up to 6 months. However, when it comes to age, new advances in medical technology could be a game changer.
"The ability to freeze eggs really changes a lot. It's a whole new world now," Wilshire says.
Doctors have been able to freeze sperm for decades. Eggs were much more difficult, but a new process called vitrification makes it possible.
"Theoretically a woman could come in here at any time, and say I'm 22 years old. I want to freeze a bunch of eggs because I plan on going to professional school, and I don't want to start for anothing 10-15 years," Wilshire said.
However, he added just because you can freeze your eggs, doesn't mean you should. It's still a new and emerging medical technology, and it's an expensive procedure. The University of Sourthern California Fertility Center estimates it costs about $10,000 to harverst and freeze the eggs, about $500 a year to store them, and another $5,000 to later thaw and use them. There are no guaruntees that will allow a woman to conceive later in life, but it does improve the chances.
Another group that could benefit from egg freezing are young women diagnosed with cancer. They can now undergo chemo or radiation treatments that would have killed the eggs, and still be able to use the frozen eggs to have children later.