IVF Treatment May Increase Risk of Ovarian Cancer: Study

Women who underwent in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatment to get pregnant may face a higher risk of developing ovarian cancer, according to the findings of new research. 

In a study presented last week at the American Society for Reproduction Medicine’s conference in Baltimore, British researchers suggested that IVF treatments raised the risk of ovarian cancer by 37%, with women who didn’t successfully conceive a baby during the treatment facing the greatest risk.

Researchers from the University College London analyzed the records of more than 255,000 women who underwent IVF in England, Wales and Scotland between 1991 and 2010. The women were followed up for an average of eight years. Among those women, there was a total of 336 cases of ovarian cancer.

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Overall, 15 out of every 10,000 women who have IVF treatment develop ovarian cancer, compared to a rate of 11 out of 10,000 among the general population. There was no increased risk of breast or uterine cancer found.

Alastair Sutcliffe, the study’s lead author, and the team of researchers found that younger women appeared to have the highest ovarian cancer risk. However, there appeared to be no risk for women who underwent IVF due to an infertile male partner, nor for women who had more than one cycle of IVF.

Researchers say the most likely reason for the increased risk is underlying problems in the women that may be causing infertility, such as endometriosis. These problems may also be putting women at higher risk for ovarian cancer.

However, the study found that women overall have the highest risk of ovarian cancer three years after starting IVF, which supports the theory the treatment itself may increase the risk. Another possibility may lie in stimulating the ovaries to produce multiple eggs instead of just one egg. Additionally, IVF may just be increasing the risks of women who are already prone to cancer.

A prior study published in 2013 in the journal Fertility and Sterility concluded women who had IVF did not face a higher risk of breast cancer and other gynecological cancers, including ovarian cancer. That study found a slightly higher risk of endometrial cancer in women who had one to three cycles of IVF.

Researchers say the findings underscore the need for women to screen for cancer after undergoing IVF treatment. Most doctors caution patients only to use IVF when it is really need and try to help patients conceive naturally.

The study was funded by Cancer Research UK and the National Institute for Health Research, it is the largest study ever to find links between IVF and ovarian cancer.

Ovarian cancer is the fifth cause of cancer deaths among women in the U.S. And accounts for more deaths than any other female reproductive system cancer. More than 21,000 women are expected to be diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2015.


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