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Does In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) Increase Cancer Risk?

by Dr. Sharon Orrange on December 3, 2015 at 4:04 pm

You may wonder whether the many hormone injections required for the process of in vitro fertilization (IVF) put you at a higher risk of female cancers. Some reassuring results were just presented American Society for Reproductive Medicine 2015 Annual Meeting but there are some risks to know about.
Here’s what they found.

  • Ovarian cancer: In women who undergo in vitro fertilization (IVF), the risk for overian cancer is minimal. The results, however, do suggest that there is some increased risk. This should concern you because we have no screening for ovarian cancer—unlike we do for cervical cancer (pap smears) or breast cancer (mammograms).
  • But wait: the study suggests that the increased risk is because of the nature of women needing these treatments in the first place (the underlying risk factors) and not due to the hormone drug treatments themselves. For example, women with endometriosis have an increased risk of ovarian cancer and may also experience infertility—which leads them to IVF. So, endometriosis and other reasons for infertility place women at risk, not the IVF itself.  
  • How many women were studied? This study evaluated 255,786 records, which represented 2.2 million years of exposure.
  • How much higher was the ovarian cancer risk in those who’ve done IVF? There was a 37% higher risk in the group who had IVF. The authors blame the factors that lead to the infertility over the actual IVF treatment because the risk for ovarian cancer did not increase as the number of IVF cycles increased. If the risk was caused by hormonal therapies from IVF, you would expect an increase with more treatments.
  • Are there any other facts that show IVF is not causing the increased risk? There is another interesting point that supports the idea that the increased ovarian cancer risk is from other underlying issues. The risk for ovarian cancer was higher when female infertility was an issue, but not male infertility. So, when using IVF for male infertility, women don’t have an increased risk of ovarian cancer. Super interesting and points away from IVF as the cause.
  • What about breast and uterine (endometrial) cancer? There was no significant association between IVF and breast cancer or endometrial cancer.
  • Is IVF at a younger age more risky? The answer appears to be yes. The risk for ovarian cancer was significantly greater in women who underwent their first treatment at a younger age, and was greatest in the 3 years after the first treatment.

Dr O.


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