Fertility Treatments Up Cancer Risk, Study Says

Fertility struggles can be one of the most trying things a couple faces in their lives, and a new study has revealed some frightening risks that may come along with the already emotionally and financially trying experience.

A study published on October 26th in the journal Human Reproduction found that “subfertile women” who underwent ovarian stimulation by in-vitro stimulation had twice the risk of malignant ovarian tumors as women with similar fertility levels who did not receive the treatments. The risk increase was due to what is known as “borderline tumors,” which according to the study is an important distinction:

Epidemiology head at the Netherlands Cancer Institute in Amsterdam Flora van Leeuwen, PhD explained:

“It is important to note that, in our study, we found that the risk of invasive ovarian cancer, known for its notoriously poor prognosis, was not significantly increased. However, we did find a statistically significant increase in borderline tumors in women who had received IVF treatment.”

Dr. van Leeuwen said that incidence of the treatments is relatively rare when compared with the population overall, prompting the team to research its effect in the long term:

“There are very few cohort studies like this. In the general population, IVF is relatively uncommon, so we decided to conduct a study that followed women exposed to IVF, which has more statistical power.”

Dr. van Leeuwen cited two main differences in the study that separates it from previous research into fertility treatments and cancer. One was that the most recent study included borderline tumors, many of which are excluded from studies that focus mainly on invasive cancer. Another was the comparison group of subfertile women who had not received IVF in their lifetimes, as “comparing an IVF group with the general population is not optimal because women in the general population have more children, use more contraception, and have less subfertility; these are all factors that can affect risk for ovarian malignancy.”