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A statement published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal is calling on doctors to share clear-eyed, up-to-date information about the benefits and risks of the procedure for women seeking "social egg freezing".
That’s the term used to describe a situation in which otherwise healthy women freeze their eggs for later use in fertility treatments such as in vitro fertilization. Egg freezing is also done as part of a cancer treatment or for other medical reasons.
So, before a woman gets a referral to a fertility clinic from her doctor, she may hear a few uncomfortable facts.
Risks of egg freezing
The egg retrieval process itself isn’t easy and involves hormonal treatments, which have to be monitored very carefully for complications. Then, there’s the surgical procedure of removing the eggs from the woman’s ovaries – and the future risks associated with IVF, such as high-blood pressure and low birth-weight babies.
Perhaps most importantly, the major risk the CMA has identified is the risk of not getting pregnant in the future when a woman’s eggs are thawed.
For instance, some U.S. statistics in the CMAJ piece suggest a pregnancy rate of only 4.5 percent to 12 percent using previously frozen eggs.
"It's really getting marketed like it's a back-up plan, it's insurance," lead author Angel Petropanagos, a post-doctoral fellow at Dalhousie University, told CTV News. "The problem is that the success rate isn't really that great."
Egg freezing and storage is expensive, she adds, and it is not covered by provincial health care.
This comes on the heels of the procedure being declared by a number of medical groups as no longer experimental, but a viable fertility choice, due to newer methods of freezing and other technologies.
The Canadian Fertility and Andrology Society, for instance, issued a position statement to this effect last year.
The CMAJ analysis names this statement in particular, suggesting that Canadian women may be mislead by its optimistic tone.
Previous research into fertility awareness reveals Canadians may be overly optimistic in general about the ability of science to help us conceive later in life. A 2013 study found that more than 90 percent of us incorrectly believe that until menopause, IVF can help women get pregnant using their own eggs.
The bottom line? If you think you’d like to freeze your eggs for future use, start the conversation with your doctor now and gather all the facts that are relevant to you.
Read on for more on what's involved in egg freezing and common myths around fertility.