Egg Freezing: a race against the biological clock

In today’s society, increasingly more women are choosing to freeze their eggs, whether they have to undergo cancer treatment or ovarian surgery or increasingly for social reasons. Their choice to freeze is so that they can retain the quality of their eggs and protect them at the optimum stage of their reproductive life for when the time is right for them to start a family.

Since this technology has become available, IBILAB has seen the number of patients requesting this treatment rise and the majority of them have opted to freeze their eggs for social reasons.

Social pressure, economic instability, career opportunity and the lack of a partner are among the main reasons that lead women to postpone motherhood. In the Balearic Islands, where IBILAB is based, the average age of women having their first child was 29 in 1992 and in 2011 the average age increased to 31.4. This trend is reflected generally in Europe where the average age of a woman having her first child follows similar statistics.

Age and diminishing egg reserve

Age significantly affects the reproductive capacity of women; between the ages of 25-30 a woman’s fertility has already started to diminish and these reserves will decrease from the age of 35. At 38 years, the quantity and quality of a woman’s eggs diminish and there is increased probability of having embryos with chromosome abnormality.

Explains Dr. Margalida Torres, an experienced gynaecologist and the co-founder of IBILAB; “in 90% of cases treated in our clinic, patients are women who choose to delay motherhood either because of social or work pressures. Their eggs are frozen in liquid nitrogen at -196 degrees C in a specialised fertility laboratory. They are effectively “frozen in time” preserving the eggs at the exact time when the treatment was performed in order to maintain the age and quality of the eggs until the woman decides to use them.

Until recently, “the only option left to many older women to have children was to receive eggs from other younger women via an egg donation programme,” continued Torres. “Now, thanks to freezing techniques, women have the opportunity to preserve their own eggs when they are young and use them when required. Often, women don’t need to use their frozen eggs because they have achieved pregnancy naturally but they have that back-up”.

If a woman wants to freeze her eggs, she should go to a fertility centre where they will establish as to whether they are any contra indications to this procedure. Then on the first or second day of the woman’s menstruation, the centre will perform an ultrasound and will prescribe medication so that instead of producing a single mature egg in that cycle, she will produce 6, 10, 12, 14 … “says Torres. “Following approximately two weeks of treatment with injections, the eggs are then retrieved, via a surgical procedure, which is performed in the operating room under sedation. After 60-90 minutes, the patient is free to go home to rest for the first 24 hours. ”

“The eggs can be stored indefinitely,” says Dr.Torres. “If the patient needs her eggs, the thawing procedure should be synchronised with the patient’s menstrual cycle. In this situation her partner’s sperm or the donor sperm (in the case of a single woman) must be supplied to the laboratory. A few days later, an embryo transfer will be performed into the uterus of the woman. The probability of success will be the same as if the woman had tried IVF at the age when her eggs were frozen”.


Fertility preservation for oncological or medical reasons

Both female and male cancer patients that undergo aggressive radiation or chemotherapy treatments, which can often leave them sterile, have the option to preserve their fertility and the chance of having children once they have been treated for cancer.

In women, “radiotherapy irreversibly damages the condition of their eggs and chemotherapy can also cause damage, depending on the type of chemotherapy used and the age of the patient. In particular, the chemotherapy treatments used for breast cancer are very harmful, “says Dr. Torres.

For men, chemotherapy “produces a loss or depletion of testicular tissue, although by using fewer gonadotoxic drugs, almost half of the cases recover spermatogenesis. However, there are times, even when the patient has recovered, that the quantity or quality of sperm is not adequate, “says IBILAB’s co-founder.
However, the positive message is that with this freezing technology cancer sufferers have a real chance to preserve their fertility and start a family when they have completed their treatment.

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