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Cancer risk in IVF babies

Cancer cell blog thumbnailThe topic of the future health of babies born through IVF is one that can play on the minds intending parents.

Tabloid journalism can feed fears about the risk of cancer and other diseases in children born as a result of assisted conception. That’s why we like to take the time to share studies such as this journal article.

In summary, the news is good. A study published in the reproductive medicine journal, Human Reproduction found that children born through assisted reproductive technology (ART) do not appear to have an increased risk of cancer.

The study followed a group of close to 50,000 children in The Netherlands for approximately 21 years and compared children born through ART with naturally conceived children born to sub fertile women. As the study’s lead researcher Professor Flora van Leeuwen explains, "This study … is especially important because it includes a comparison group of naturally conceived children born to sub fertile women; these women are different from the general population and it is possible that difficulty in conceiving could be a factor that influences the risk of cancer in their offspring."

The length of time the researchers have been following the children is also important because it’s the first study to compare outcomes in ART-conceived children over such a long period of time.

According to one of the researchers, of the 47,690 children included in the study, 231 developed cancer. “After adjusting for factors that could confound the results such as age and the parental cause of subfertility, the overall long-term risk for cancer was neither increased in the ART-conceived children compared with naturally conceived children from sub fertile women, nor when compared with the general population.”

What the study did discover was a “somewhat increased, although not statistically significant” risk of cancer in children conceived through ICSI or frozen embryos.

“Because the number of cancers in these groups were small, these findings may be due to chance and must be interpreted with caution,” the authors said.

The key message from this study for people researching fertility treatment is that they can be reassured that any children they conceive through IVF or other ART treatments do not have an increased risk of cancer.

The researchers now plan to expand their study to include ART-conceived children born in more recent years, a boost of another 30,000 to their co-hort.

“We hope this will provide more evidence about the possible long-term risk of cancer for these children,” Professor van Leeuwen said.
By the Numbers
  • 47,690 children
  • 24,269 were conceived by ART
  • 13,761 were naturally conceived
  • 9,660 were conceived naturally or with the help of fertility drugs, such as ovarian stimulation medication, but not by ART.
  • 231 cases of cancer including 31 cases of lymphoblastic leukaemia and 26 cases of melanoma.

Read about Fertility Specialist Assoc Prof Mark Bowman

Disclaimer: Please note that this is a Genea Group blog and as such information may not be relevant for all clinics. We advise that you consult clinics directly for further information.