When I was 26 years old, I was diagnosed with stage 4 endometriosis.
I was told that if I ever hoped to have kids, my options were to freeze my eggs immediately or to find myself a sperm donor and pursue a fresh round of IVF.
At the time, egg freezing was still somewhat new, and the success rates weren’t great.
The idea of literally putting all my eggs into one basket, then waiting years to find someone in the hopes that those eggs would be viable, felt like too big a risk for me to take.
So, at 27 years old, I underwent two rounds of IVF.
Both failed. But at least I knew.
And I wouldn’t spend the next 10 years wondering about whether or not there would be success with my frozen eggs.
Today, egg freezing is on the rise, with Time magazine recently reporting that 76,000 women will freeze their eggs by 2018.
Egg freezing parties have become a thing, with millennials opting to preserve their eggs, buying themselves more time to find a partner and pursue a career.
But for women facing a health crisis that threatens to strip them of their fertility, egg freezing is no longer the only fertility preservation option.
The ovarian tissue option
According to the Alliance for Fertility Preservation, “Ovarian tissue freezing is an experimental technique that involves the freezing and storage of tissue from the ovarian cortex.”
That tissue contains undeveloped eggs and can be reimplanted at a later date in the hopes of helping a woman to conceive.
A recent study released in Reproductive Sciencesfound that 37 percent women opting for ovarian tissue freezing were able to successfully conceive.
The success rates are lower than those currently found in egg freezing. But according to the study authors, “The procedure is superior to egg freezing as it can also reverse menopause and restore natural fertility.”
The arguments against tissue freezing
Curious which procedure might be preferred in the future, Healthline reached out to Dr. Aimee Eyvazzadeh, a fertility specialist in California who advocates for preemptive egg freezing.
“Ovarian Tissue Cryopreservation (OTC) is experimental,” she explained. “Millennial women will not be freezing their ovaries anytime soon. Egg freezing is not going to be replaced by OTC.”
Expanding on the current data, she explained, “The latest published study on OTC was simply a review of the literature from 1999 to 2016. It was a report that analyzed 19 reports on OTC. Of those analyzed, 255 patients had OTC and 309 had OTT [ovarian tissue transplants]. The average age of the patients was 29. We don’t have an experience reported in the literature for older women who have had the procedure.”
Eyvazzadeh was also clear there are some major drawbacks to consider.
“These are general anesthesia, laparoscopic surgeries costing at least $20,000. And what the headlines aren’t reporting is that the tissue removed during these procedures has a lasting average of two years. That’s it,” she said.
“I look forward to the day when there’s a new technology that will be noninvasive and that will reliably delay age-related infertility. But we’re not there yet,” she added.
The arguments for tissue freezing
Dr. Vitaly Kushnir at the Center for Human Reproduction is one of the pioneers in ovarian tissue freezing.
According to Kushnir, this relatively new procedure mainly benefits people with cancer.
“One of the main advantages of ovarian tissue freezing over egg freezing is that it can be performed very quickly, allowing cancer patients to start chemotherapy the next day,” he told Healthline. “Meanwhile, egg freezing typically requires several weeks of hormonal treatments before the actual collection of eggs is performed.”
For a woman with a recent cancer diagnosis and a need to start treatment right away, it’s understandable why delaying in order to freeze her eggs might not be a viable option. In that case, ovarian tissue freezing may be.
“Additionally,” Kushnir explained, “for children with cancer who have not yet reached puberty, ovarian tissue freezing is the only fertility preservation option we have at this time.”
And there is one more benefit he wanted to make clear.
“Ovarian grafts contain thousands of eggs, allowing for multiple attempts to achieve a pregnancy in the future,” Kushnir said. “This is unlike egg freezing, where only a small number of eggs can be frozen in a given cycle.”
Still, Kushnir acknowledged drawbacks as well, including the need to surgically remove, and later transplant, the ovarian tissue.
But he added, “There is a push in the field to lift the experimental label on ovarian tissue freezing for cancer patients, and this will likely happen in the near future as more data becomes available.”
Looking at the future
For now, for most women, ovarian tissue freezing isn’t even an option.
And as Eyvazzadeh made clear, it won’t be replacing egg freezing as an optional fertility preservation method anytime soon.
In other words: You won’t soon be hearing about millennials throwing ovarian tissue freezing parties.
But who knows what the future holds.