10/20/2013 02:14 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Egg Freezing for Later Pregnancy in Perimenopause or Early Menopause

Oct. 18 was World Menopause Day. Sometimes fertility and menopause clash when a woman has not had a baby and is either still looking for a partner or requires treatment that propels her suddenly into menopause.

I just returned from the annual meeting of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine in Boston and talked with Dr. S. L. Tan, a world authority on egg freezing and in vitro fertilization on some of his latest research. He is professor of obstetrics & gynecology at McGill University and director of the Montreal Reproductive Center. Here is what Dr. Tan had to say about freezing your eggs to allow the best chance for a successful pregnancy in perimenopause, premature menopause or even beyond.

A woman who wants to conserve her fertility can now freeze her eggs by a new rapid freezing process. To accomplish this, she must take daily injectable fertility medications for about 10 days and come into the office a few times for blood tests and pelvic ultrasounds. When the follicle cysts that surround each egg reach a diameter of approximately 18 mm (about the size of a nickel) the eggs are removed with a thin needle placed through the vagina using heavy sedation so it is not painful. Up to now it's like in vitro fertilization. But in this case, instead of fertilizing the eggs, the eggs are frozen.

This has been going on for a while, but the breakthrough is in a new freezing technique that is called "flash freezing" or "vitrification." This technique prevents ice crystals from forming within the egg that could damage it. That improvement allows the eggs to be safely frozen for years and retain the same success rate when thawed as the woman would have had years earlier at the time her eggs were removed.

Dr. Tan states that the success rate for women 35 and younger when they freeze their eggs could be as high as 60 percent for one cycle, and if a woman were to do three cycles that composite success could be as high as 90 percent. Certainly not 100 percent, but extremely high. For women 36 to 39 years of age, the optimum success for a cycle would likely be about 40 percent per cycle.

All this bodes well for women who must delay conception or who are prematurely thrown into menopause due to cancer treatment. This new approach can be a very helpful way to overcome a very problematic consequence of treatment.

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