Last updated on August 26, 2021.
Not quite ready to have children yet but worried about your future fertility? Whether you are focused on your career or haven’t found the right partner, egg freezing – oocyte cryopreservation – preserves a woman’s eggs so she can try to conceive at a later date. Healthy Matters brings you a complete guide to egg freezing in Hong Kong. With Hong Kong reproductive medicine specialist Dr. Patrick Chan 陳世樂醫生, we cover it all: from best age and success rates to providers and costs.
Egg freezing legal framework in Hong Kong: storage limit and marriage requirement
In Hong Kong, egg freezing is allowed for both medical reasons (cancer treatment) and elective reasons (not yet ready to have children). Frozen eggs may be stored up to 10 years or until the patient reaches age 55, whichever comes first. While women can freeze their eggs when they are unmarried, it is important to note that the frozen eggs can only be used if the patient is legally married under Hong Kong law (not same-sex couples).
The process: stimulation, harvesting and freezing
The process to harvest eggs is the same as in vitro fertilization, without the final step of combining the egg and sperm to create an embryo. A woman wanting to have her eggs frozen takes hormonal stimulants for 10-12 days to encourage a higher-than-usual rate of egg production. The more eggs produced, the higher the chances the end result will be successful. Eggs are harvested from the ovaries using an ultrasound-guided probe through the vagina. Harvested eggs are frozen in a laboratory through a process called ‘vitrification’ and can be stored frozen for many years.
Timing: best age to have your eggs frozen
The earlier, the better. As women age, both the quantity and quality of their eggs decline. The younger a woman is when her eggs are harvested and frozen, the more eggs will be harvested and fewer will be required to produce a viable embryo. As explained by Dr. Patrick Chan: “for most women, egg freezing works best in their 20s/30s and is not as effective for women over 38. Depending on the quality of the eggs and other factors, 6 to 8 eggs should be stored for each future pregnancy attempt.“
Effectiveness: vitrification is better
Until 2012, egg freezing was considered experimental. A new freezing process, known as vitrification, has increased the safety and effectiveness of egg freezing. Eggs are full of water and as that water freezes, it expands and often causes damage. Vitrification flash freezes the egg and removes the water from egg cells, reducing this risk.
Success rates: the data
The rates of women giving birth to a baby from a frozen egg are low. The most reliable statistics are from the UK – in 2013, the latest year data is available, 693 eggs were thawed and from those, 11 women gave birth. The technology is rapidly changing so statistics on egg freezing successes require a bit of unpacking – the women being implanted with frozen eggs at the moment are using eggs that were preserved with a mix of the ‘old’ freezing methods and the ‘new’ vitrification methods.
According to Dr. Patrick Chan, “it is important to understand that egg freezing should not be perceived as something you can rely on 100%. I advise for it as a plan B, not a plan A.” While some fertility centers quote egg freezing success rates that are comparable to conventional IVF success rates, more data is needed before giving reliable numbers.
Egg freezing requires work: it’s not easy
It’s like doing a round of IVF but without the actual embryo transfer in the end. Usually the first stage is spent on blood tests and ultrasounds to assess whether you are a good candidate. The second stage is spent taking hormonal medicine to stimulate your ovaries. These are daily injections you will have to give yourself (or a family member/close friend). You are monitored with ultrasound and blood tests to evaluate ovulation timing. The third stage is the egg retrieval procedure. You will be under light sedation and may feel cramping and bloating afterwards. The objective is to freeze around 20 to 30 eggs to maximize success rates.
Egg freezing options in Hong Kong: public and private providers
Public sector options
Egg freezing for social reasons is not covered by the public health system in Hong Kong.
Private sector options
See Healthy Matters Directory for a complete list of fertility treatment providers.
Egg freezing costs in Hong Kong
The cost of social egg freezing in Hong Kong ranges, on average, from $60,000 – $160,000. It’s important to contact your provider for a complete breakdown of fees and to seek transparency.
Egg freezing insurance in Hong Kong
While medical insurance usually does not cover egg freezing, there is one health insurance plan on the market that covers the procedure’s costs when in relation to fertility. Elective egg freezing chosen in anticipation of future conception without any medical justification is generally not covered by health insurance.
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Dr. Patrick Sai Lock Chan 陳世樂醫生 graduated from the University of Melbourne medical school. After completing residency at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, he returned to Hong Kong to work for Hospital Authority. He worked for more than 10 years in public sector and during this period completed higher training in minimal invasive gynecological surgery. He has further sub-specialized in reproductive medicine at the Monash IVF Centre, Australia. Currently, Dr. Patrick Chan is in private practice providing obstetrics care and fertility treatment.
This article was reviewed and updated on March 18, 2021.