Situations may arise in which a person’s future ability of having his or her own biological child may be in jeopardy. Treatments are available at the Regional Fertility Program for both male and female patients facing such a challenge.
Fertility Preservation for Women
A woman may want to consider preserving her fertility in situations such as:
- aggressive ovarian surgery
- chemotherapy treatment
- pelvic radiotherapy
- elective delay of childbearing / advancing age
Options for women to preserve their fertility include cryopreservation of oocytes (eggs), embryos or ovarian tissue. The best choice of treatment will vary from one person to another and we encourage you to discuss your individual situation further during a consultation with one of our physicians at the clinic.
More recently, oocyte vitrification has become very popular since the “experimental” labeling of the procedure was lifted in 2012. Vitrification is achieved by surrounding the egg with high concentrations of cryoprotectants and preserving the internal structure of the egg by transformation to a glass-like state. This technique has made possible the potential preservation of fertility in women, thus allowing women to freeze their eggs for possible future use. This process is the same as for IVF except that shortly after the time of retrieval the eggs are vitrified rather than fertilized. When an individual is ready to conceive at a later time, the eggs are warmed and fertilized by ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection).
Current data suggests that vitrified eggs have similar success rates as fresh eggs, although the numbers are still small. This is a relatively new technology so the program’s success rates are not available to date. We know from experience with our vitrified donor egg program that excellent pregnancy rates can be obtained from freezing eggs from young women for use in donor egg IVF cycles. The best results will therefore be obtained in younger women preferably under 35 years old. The costs and potential complications are the same as IVF other than a lower risk of ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome as a pregnancy will not ensue after egg retrieval (the main trigger for hyperstimulation syndrome). It is not unusual for some vitrified eggs not to survive the warming process, and therefore it is not possible to guarantee successful pregnancies in all cases.
Some patients undergoing IVF treatment with excess eggs, who do not wish to freeze embryos for ethical or religious considerations, may vitrify the eggs for potential use in future IVF fertility treatment. This option should be discussed with your physician prior to IVF treatment.
Fertility Preservation for Men
There are many circumstances when men may choose to store sperm for future use including:
- vasectomy – some men change their minds about having children
- progressive decline in sperm quality/quantity
- chemotherapy/radiation treatment
- testicular, pelvic or prostate surgery
- other medical treatments that may render a man infertile
- service members serving in war zones
Sperm samples may be obtained through masturbation, percutaneous needle aspiration (PESA), as well as vibrostimulation and electroejaculation. These samples can be cryopreserved (frozen) and stored indefinitely for use in the future for IUI or ICSI. Men undergoing vasectomy should consider storing sperm before their surgery if there is any chance they may want to have children in the future.
Due to the nature of the sperm freezing it is usual for motility and concentration to be less after freezing and thawing than in the original fresh sample. Therefore there can be no guarantee that the frozen sperm will be suitable for future use. The majority of degradation of the sperm quality occurs at the time of the freeze, not during storage. Once frozen the sample may be stored indefinitely in liquid nitrogen. Cryopreservation and storage of sperm is not paid for by the provincial health care plans and patients using this service will incur initial processing and annual storage charges.
Men wishing to bank sperm for future use may contact the Diagnostic Semen Laboratory directly at (403)284-9410 to arrange an appointment to bank sperm. Alternatively, men may be referred by their physicians for a consultation with one of our specialists to discuss their options before proceeding.
Due to the time constraints inherent in fertility preservation, we strive to accommodate most requests for consultation and banking within a few days when it is medically indicated. Please have your physician contact us directly or fax an urgent request to our clinic at (403)284-9293.