Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) Fertility Treatments May Increase Risk for Childhood Cancers: Study
New research raises concern about the potential side effects of assisted reproductive technology (ART), indicating that babies born after the fertility treatments may face an increased risk of childhood cancers, especially leukemia and hepatic tumors (liver cancer).
Assisted reproductive technology (ART) is a fertility treatment that involves retrieving eggs from a woman’s ovaries, fertilizing them in a laboratory, and then transferring the resulting embryos into the woman’s uterus. ART can be used to treat a variety of fertility problems, including endometriosis, premature ovarian failure, and unexplained infertility.
While the use of ART is still relatively rare, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports the use of the technology has more than doubled over the last ten years, with approximately 2% of all infants born in the U.S. annually being conceived through ART procedures.
In findings of a new study published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), researchers warn that children conceived through ART may be at a 60% increased risk of developing any types of childhood cancer when compared to children conceived naturally or those born to parents with an infertility diagnosis that did not use ART.
Childhood Cancer Risk from ART Fertility Treatment
Researchers from Taiwan conducted a nationwide population-based cohort study involving more than 2.3 million parent-child groups from 2004 to 2017. The study identified 1,880 children with childhood cancer.
Using ART to conceive was linked to a 58% increased risk of the child having any type of childhood cancer. Compared to natural conception, using ART doubled the risk of leukemia and nearly tripled the risk of hepatic tumors, which are growths on or in the liver that can spread to other parts of the body.
Specifically, children born to parents who used ART, compared to those who didn’t use ART or who were infertile, but still didn’t use ART, were 2.5 times higher risk of developing liver cancers. Their risk of developing any type of childhood cancer was 1.5 times the risk if the parent used ART.
Incidence rates among the ART group for any type of cancer were 203 per million person-years compared to 137 for non-ART parents and 121 for those who conceived naturally.
The ART childhood cancer rates for leukemia were 56 per million person-years, compared to 34 in the non-ART group and 29 in the natural conception group. The rate of hepatic tumors was 34 among the ART group, 9 among the non-ART group and 8 among the natural conception group.
“This cohort study showed that regardless of comparison to natural conception or sub-fertility with no use of ART, ART conception was associated with increased risks for any type of childhood cancers, leukemias, and hepatic tumors,” wrote study authors. “These associations were not mediated by preterm birth and low birth weight. ”
The increased risk could not be attributed to preterm birth or low birth weight. There was no increased risk linked to ART and other types of cancers, only childhood cancers, and leukemia and hepatic tumors had the greatest correlation.
IVF Treatment Risks for Children
Prior research has identified potential fertility treatment cancer risks for children. In the March 2016 issue of the journal Pediatrics, researchers from the Norwegian National Advisory Unit on Women’s Health at Oslo University Hospital found children conceived using in vitro fertilization(IVF) had a nearly 70% increased risk of developing leukemia and Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
The study reviewed birth and cancer data of more than 1.6 million children born in Norway, and found children born using fertility procedures, such as IVF, have a 67% higher risk developing leukemia. The researchers also found a threefold increased risk of Hodgkin’s lymphoma among children born using assisted reproductive technology (ART), including IVF, artificial insemination and medication.
A 2013 study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) suggested a link between fertility treatments and mental disorder risks, including mental retardation, autism, hyperactivity, emotional and social conduct disorders. Overall, the study found children born to mothers who used artificial insemination had a 18 percent increased risk of developing a mental disorder.
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