Is IVF Linked to Cancer?
Last updated date: 05-Oct-2021
5 mins read
One of the most frequently asked questions regarding IVF is regarding its link to cancer. We understand that this is a natural question and one which patients and potential patients need answering to give them the extra peace of mind before embarking on the treatment. We also appreciate that many of those visiting us will be already experiencing the heartache of struggling to conceive naturally and are sometimes so desperate to have a baby, that they ignore any potential risks.
As Bangkok’s leading fertility clinic, we always endeavour to explain all the risks and potential side-effects of IVF treatment. We believe that this enables potential patients to make an informed decision regarding their next step. We always refer to the latest medical papers and reviews to get up to date information as well as taking a couple’s personal medical history into account. Although there are some potential links to cancer associated with IVF, the risk, on the whole, assuming that all the correct checks are conducted is minimal. It is one of the main reasons why we always tell clients that they should only ever consider treatment at a reputable clinic.
Is it possible to give a definitive answer about IVF’s links to cancer?
Unfortunately, it is impossible to give a definitive answer about the links between fertility treatment and cancer, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine has noted that there is a potential link to ovarian, uterine and breast cancer. However, the risks that otherwise healthy individuals are exposed to appear to be minimal. Indeed, research shows infertility, nulliparity, and late menopause also demonstrate an increased risk of cancer. This is something that happens naturally, as the incidence of patients appears to be unrelated to fertility drugs.
On the face of it, some disease such as Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) and endometriosis pose more of an increased risk to cancer regardless of if drugs are taken. However, individuals must understand that it is incredibly difficult to have a controlled group when studying cancer and that many other factors may create anomalies with the results. It is particularly relevant with studies into IVF and cancer due to detection, selection and recall bias.
Ovarian Cancer and IVF
Arguably the most significant concern regarding cancer and IVF treatment is with ovarian cancer. However, extensive studies have been conducted with the vast majority revealing that there is no significant increase in risk when compared to the general population. This is naturally very reassuring with the consensus being amongst those in the medical profession believe that this is because generally ovarian cancer in more prevalent in older women. Of course, it is crucial to acknowledge that the female should be put under adequate surveillance during and after her treatment due to potential currently unknown long-term risks.
It is essential to understand that borderline ovarian cancer generally advances slowly and is regarded as being one of the most curable cancers with a 95% success rate when there is an early diagnosis. As the prognosis is good with regards to this cancer, we would always advise our patients that the risks are minimal and should not influence their decision to proceed or otherwise with IVF treatment.
Breast Cancer and IVF
Breast cancer is another of the primary cancers that are often closely linked with IVF, and this is quite understandable since some forms of breast cancer are believed to be both estrogen and progesterone sensitive. Although further studies need to be conducted, current evidence suggests that it is only those patients who are already harbouring hormone-sensitive forms breast cancer who are at risk. In these patients, it is likely that they would experience increased growth rates during some of the IVF treatment intervals when higher levels of estrogen and progesterone are noted.
The current belief is that there no increased incidence of new cancers developing as a result of IVF treatment. It is supported by the fact that some studies have continued to work with women for more than 30 years after they have undergone fertility treatment with no notable increase in incidence. It is crucial to stress once again that other factors such as conceiving later, infertility and nulliparity did appear to have an impact on breast cancer incidence. It is, therefore, essential that all risks factors are kept in perspective when considering cancer.
Uterine Cancer and IVF
It has been commonly noted in medical journals that unopposed estrogen is regarded as a factor which leads to an increased risk of uterine cancer. However, during IVF treatment, both estrogen and progesterone are used so, in almost all cases, the estrogen would not be regarded as being unopposed. Other factors are far more likely to result in unopposed estrogen such as obesity and hyperinsulinemia, which are known to cause problems with ovulation.
Currently, there have been nine studies and three reviews into the links between uterine cancer and IVF, and indeed, other fertility treatments with no increased risk in incidence noted. The same studies also found that malignant melanoma, thyroid, colon and cervical cancer were unrelated to fertility treatment. On balance, however, it was suggested that further research needed to be conducted into these other forms of cancer and their association with IVF treatment.
Exercise Caution and be Vigilant
With an increasing number of people around the world developing different forms of cancer, it is vital that you remain vigilant and exercise caution. Reputable fertility clinics will conduct a full review of your medical history before commencing treatment and well as monitoring you during and after treatment. We would suggest that all patients try to eliminate alcohol and tobacco whilst trying to conceive and during pregnancy as well as taking more exercise, reducing their intake of red meat and maintaining a healthy BMI.