Call to extend age-related infertility procedures

The UK and other countries have seen a growing trend of women choosing to give birth when older. Picture: Cate Gillon
The UK and other countries have seen a growing trend of women choosing to give birth when older. Picture: Cate Gillon
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MORE healthy women should be given the option of freezing their eggs or ovarian tissue to combat age-related infertility, doctors have said.

Experts said the procedures should no longer be reserved for cancer patients, who are often offered the chance to freeze material before starting treatment that will stop them having children in future.

They said the safety and effectiveness of these techniques had now been proven, meaning they could be increasingly offered to women to protect their fertility until a time when they were ready to conceive.

The UK and other countries have seen a growing trend of women choosing to give birth when older, perhaps due to their careers or waiting to find the right partner.

But this has meant many have been forced to seek help to conceive when their fertility declines with age, in some cases having to seek donated eggs, which are in short supply.

The experts’ article in the Lancet pointed out that in the past ten years, researchers have restored the fertility of female cancer patients who would otherwise have been left infertile after treatment.

They were offered egg “cryo-preservation”, which enabled them to freeze their eggs and use them at a later time. Several babies have been born to cancer patients using this technique, which is no longer classed as experimental.

Author Professor Dominic Stoop, who is based in Belgium, said: “So far, nearly 2,000 babies have been born from eggs frozen, without an increase in the incidence of any birth defects.”

Another approach to restoring fertility for young cancer patients has been to freeze ovarian tissue and transplant it back into the woman at a later date.

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In 2004, a Belgian woman became the first to give birth to a healthy baby, seven years after banking her frozen ovarian tissue prior to starting chemotherapy. This technique has gone on to result in the birth of 37 healthy babies to cancer patients.

But use of the techniques can be controversial, with both the American Society for Reproductive Medicine and the European Society for Reproductive Medicine calling for more evidence on safety, cost-effectiveness and psychological factors.

However, the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology recommends that egg-freezing should be available both for cancer patients and for the prevention of age-related infertility.

The experts said the success of ovarian tissue technology and egg-freezing for cancer patients made the treatments viable for other women who wished to postpone having children for other reasons.

Co-author Dr Ana Cobo, head of the cryobiology unit at IVI Valencia in Spain, said: “Both these techniques could also help women to overcome future infertility and may counter the increasing need for egg donation in developed countries.”