For women who may want to have children in their 40s, freezing their eggs in their 20s or 30s costs less and has a higher success rate than waiting until age 40 to try to get pregnant, a new study finds.
Scientists ran all the numbers — the cost of egg freezing, the odds of having a baby at age 40 without in vitro fertilization and the cost of IVF for women who will need it in order to have a baby — and found that it costs about $15,000 less, on average, for women to freeze their eggs at age 35 and use them at age 40, rather than wait until age 40 and try to become pregnant.
Egg freezing remained the more cost-effective option for women up until age 38, the researchers said.
The study shows that "if a woman invested in having a genetically related child at age 40, egg banking at least once at age 35 is a cost-effective approach," said Dr. Wendy Vitek, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Rochester Medical Center in Rochester, New York.
"This is very valuable information for women to consider, as the financial burden of egg banking and storage is often a limiting factor for interested women," said Vitek, who was not involved in the study.
The researchers also found that a woman's chances of eventually having a baby are better if she freezes her eggs, according to the study published online March 24 in the journal Fertility and Sterility. [Egg Freezing: 5 Things You Need to Know]
Why freeze your eggs?
Some women are beginning to embrace egg freezing in order to keep open the possibility of having kids in their 40s, Dr. Kate Devine of the National Institutes of Health and her colleagues wrote in their study.
In egg freezing, women inject themselves with hormones for about two weeks, and then a doctor places a needle into the vagina to retrieve mature egg cells from the ovary. The egg cells are then frozen for later use in IVF.
The procedure to retrieve the eggs costs between $10,000 and $17,000 per cycle (and some women may undergo more than one cycle to get enough eggs). Other fees may include those for storage (up to $3,000 for five years) and thawing ($3,400 to $6,800), according to the study.
In comparison, IVF with fresh eggs costs about $13,000 to $17,000 per cycle, according to the study.
The researchers decided to calculate how these costs might play out in real life. In their calculations, they made the following assumptions based on previous studies: 16 percent of women get pregnant at age 40 within six months of trying, without the need for any interventions; one cycle of IVF at age 40 has a 17 percent chance of success; and women will undergo a second cycle of IVF if the first one doesn't work.
They found that 62 percent of women who freeze their eggs at age 35 and try to get pregnant at age 40 would successfully have a baby, with the average total cost of the procedures leading to the birth coming to $39,946.
Just 42 percent of women who tried to get pregnant at age 40 using IVF with newly retrieved eggs would have a baby, with costs totaling $55,060, on average.
Under a third scenario, women freeze their eggs at age 35, and then at age 40, they try conventional IVF. Only if those newly retrieved eggs don't work do they proceed to use frozen eggs. Women in this situation would spend an average of $61,887 — making it the most costly option in the study. But this scenario also had the highest success rate, with 74 percent eventually giving birth, the researchers said.
Vitek said she wasn't surprised that egg freezing remains cost effective up until age 38. "We know that while fertility is individual and most [women] will experience a progressive decline, there does seem to be a sharper decline at age 38 in population data." [Conception Misconceptions: 7 Fertility Myths Debunked]
Who pays for it?
Egg freezing is not usually covered by insurance, so women must typically pay for it themselves, Vitek said. For IVF (with either frozen or fresh eggs), insurance coverage varies, with some companies paying for almost all costs for procedures and medications, and others not covering any costs.
Though Vitek thinks the study results are plausible, she said the assumptions made for the calculations could be problematic. For example, the authors assumed that live birth rates from frozen eggs would be similar to birth rates using eggs that had just been retrieved, but researchers do not know if this would hold true for eggs that were retrieved from women who are nearing the end of their reproductive years, she said.
The researches also didn't account for the fact that 40-year-old women who don't get pregnant after two cycles of IVF may turn to adoption, or IVF using donor eggs, which are both quite costly, Vitek noted. If those costs were considered, egg freezing would be even more cost-effective compared with other options, she said.