While the majority of younger women are aware of egg freezing as a technique of fertility preservation and consider it an acceptable means of reproductive planning, only one in five would consider it appropriate for them, according to the results of an internet survey performed in the UK and Denmark.
The questionnaire, which was accessible online, was completed anonymously by 973 women with a median age of 31 years between September 2012 and September 2013. Results are reported today at the ESHRE Annual Meeting in Munich by Dr Camille Lallemant of the Complete Fertility Centre of Princess Anne Hospital, Southampton, United Kingdom.
" Until very recently, no options for preserving fertility in order to delay childbearing existed," explained Dr Lallemant. "Now, vitrification has revolutionised oocyte freezing and made it effective and convenient. But we are still not clear to what extent women are aware of its possibilities and limitations, or of attitudes towards its use or the circumstances in which they might consider it. Our survey tried to answer these questions."(1)
Results showed that the majority of respondents (83%) had heard of oocyte freezing, nearly all of them (99.4%) considering it acceptable for medical reasons (such as the preservation of fertility ahead of cancer treatment). Similarly, almost as many 89.1%) also considered oocyte freezing acceptable for social reasons, in order to delay the start of their family until social and domestic circumstances were more appropriate.
Indeed, the characteristics identified by the respondents as associated with an intention to freeze their eggs were not having a partner by the age of 35, being under 35 years old, childlessness, and a history of infertility. "In terms of personal circumstances, career aspirations remain less important than the biological clock and having found a partner by age 35," explained Dr Lallemant. Interestingly, she added, the 19% of respondents actively considering oocyte freezing for themselves "were less concerned about its risks than its success". The safety of the procedure for future children and cost were not significant factors.
In Britain the use of frozen eggs is described by the regulatory authority as a "relatively new development", with no more than 20 live births reported by December 2012. However, several clinics - in both UK and Denmark - have anecdotally reported an increasing interest in the procedure.
Dr Lallemant said: "While both our clinics in Southampton and Copenhagen receive many enquiries about options for fertility planning, few women as yet have actually chosen oocyte freezing for this purpose. We are, however, seeing growing interest in it."
More information: Abstract O-192: Oocyte freezing for social indications: an internet based survey of knowledge, attitudes and intentions among women in Denmark and the United Kingdom
1. A recent report has suggested that the commonly used term "social egg freezing" is not a precise description of the technique and has suggested as an alternative "oocyte banking for anticipated gamete exhaustion", a term which depicts the exact indication for the strategy (see Stoop D, van der Veen F, Deneyer M, et al. Oocyte banking for anticipated gamete exhaustion (AGE) is a preventive intervention, neither social nor nonmedical. Reprod Biomed Online 2014; 28: 548-51.