Cryopreservation offers hope to women without any hope of becoming mothers.

There are many who cannot become mothers because a life-threatening disease, and its attendant complications, led to the removal of certain reproductive organs.

Such women now have technology at their disposal. Through cryopreservation, they can now have their eggs extracted, frozen and stored. When they are ready to become pregnant, the eggs are thawed, fertilized and shifted to the uterus as an embryo.

Cryopreservation offers hope for women who might have lost all chances of getting pregnant after their surgeries. Many women are even opting for cryopreservation before undergoing chemotherapy. Cancer patients’ fertility can be affected both during treatment—when an unplanned pregnancy could be a serious problem—and later, if the treatment causes infertility.

For patients who want to have children, this can be devastating. Chemotherapy drugs and radiation to the pelvis cause genetic changes in sperm and oocytes (eggs). Most women stop producing eggs, while most males have poor sperm parameters. If at all conception takes place, then embryos with genetic damage often miscarry early in pregnancy. Some cancer treatments, such as a hysterectomy, cause permanent infertility in women at any age. Total body irradiation causes very high rates of infertility by damaging the ovaries.

Oocyte cryopreservation is aimed at three particular groups of women: those diagnosed with cancer who have not yet begun chemotherapy or radiotherapy; those undergoing treatment with assisted reproductive technologies who do not consider embryo freezing as an option; and those who would like to preserve their future ability to have children, either because they do not yet have a partner, or for other personal or medical reasons.

Cryopreservation is a great way to bridge the gap between today’s medicine and tomorrow’s. Hormone injections are administered for approximately two to three weeks and then the eggs are retrieved and maintained at subnormal temperatures in liquid nitrogen. There are two types of freezing techniques—slow freezing and rapid freezing.

The pursuit of a career has become important for many women. Also, many want to wait for the right partner. Egg preservation for social reasons is slowly getting wider recognition. It is no longer an expensive proposition. Most oncology surgeons are aware of the technique and offer the option to cancer patients.

Dr Sushma Sinha is senior consultant, IVF and infertility management, obstetrics and gynaecology, Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals, New Delhi.