Are you slightly nervous about beginning fertility treatments? It’s completely normal! Having questions is completely understandable and we urge you to ask them! Learning more about the ways in which you can overcome infertility and gathering all the information you can is exactly how you can take control of your TTC journey! At ART Compass, we’re here to answer your burning questions!
The relationship between the risk of cancer and women who undergo fertility medications is a very grey area. While there has been some research performed, there is still more to know about the relationship if there is any. We’re here to provide you with a quick summary of the findings of these studies!
This relationship is a little blurry. Studies don’t outright prove that there is a relationship but there is some evidence. A study by Katz. et al. portrays a relationship. It demonstrated that IVF treatment after the age of 30 years was associated with a greater risk of developing breast cancer. (Katz. et al. 2008) This might make it easy to say there is a correlation. However, another study by Williams et al. during 1991 and 2010 raised doubt among scientists. The study involving many participants showed that regardless of whether an infertile individual endures fertility treatments or not, they had 2x the chance of developing breast cancer. (Williams et al. 2018) Because of that statistic, it is difficult to credit IVF with directly influencing the probability of developing breast cancer. Lastly, we’ve got a study by Gauthier et al. This study involved many women (98,997 women!) They were all aged between 45 and 60 years old. There was no relationship seen between the risk of breast cancer and infertility treatment, the type of treatment, the type of drug, the age of the person at the start of treatment, and the duration of treatment (Gauthier 2004). They inferred that a higher chance of developing breast cancer from ovulation inducing drugs is rather related to family history (Gauthier 2004).
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Ovarian cancer is a more rare form of cancer compared to breast cancer. That does not mean it cannot be fatal. As for its connection to reproductive health, there are many studies about infertility drugs and their influence on developing ovarian tumors but not too many about IVF. A study published in the Journal of Cancer Research and Clinical Oncology andconducted by Kessous et al. from 1988 to 2013 demonstrated that the increased risk for ovarian cancer may be greater for those who have undergone IVF compared to the population that received ovulation induction and those with no history of fertility treatments. (Kessous 2015)
In a study performed by Venn et al., twelve cancers of the uterus and 13 cancers of the ovary and other uterine adnexae were identified in the 29,700 IVF patients involved. They were of the ages 28- 48 years. 5 of the cancers were diagnosed within 8 months of referral for IVF or IVF treatment while the remaining were diagnosed between 1 and 12 years later (Venn 2001). Two important cases this study chose to highlight are that a choriocarcinoma of the fallopian tube was diagnosed in a woman with a history of tubal infertility and that ovarian cancer was diagnosed in a woman with Bloom’s syndrome, a rare autosomal recessive disorder associated with increased cancer risk. (Venn 2001).
This factoid is a bit surprising! Studies have shown that those who have undergone IVF reported lower risks of cervical cancer. This is the one cancer that has shown a completely different pattern in comparison to other cancers. It is also thought that infertility, number of IVF cycles, and treatment outcome do not affect the probability of one developing cancer. (Dor 2002)
We’ve talked a lot about cancers related to the female reproductive system. However it is important to also brush over a cancer that is not. A study by Brinton et al. was a 30 year follow-up of 9,892 women! They were all treated with pre-IVF fertility medications. These drugs were not proven to cause colorectal cancer (Brinton 2015).
Back to the question
So does IVF cause cancer? After digging through countless studies, we’ve found that there are instances where IVF may potentially increase one’s susceptibility to cancer, not affect one’s susceptibility and finally, even decrease their risk. There is no one right answer. There are a lot of factors that play into such relationships such as what specific cancer you are concerned with, the individual’s family history, pre-existing conditions and the person’s environment. That’s what makes medicine mysterious. There are always so many moving parts and that is what makes every patient different from one another. That’s what prevents there from being ONE answer. Because your TTC journey is one-of-a-kind, always ask your physician for guidance! If cancer is a major concern of yours and is what’s keeping you from giving IVF a try, convey that to your doctor. There’s no need for you to do this on your own! Find what is right for you and your TTC journey!