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Assisted Reproductive Technology Does Not Increase Cancer-Risk in Children

Fertility treatment does not affect cancer risk in children.

March 15, 2019
Bridget Houlihan

A recent study published in Human Reproduction states that children born after using assisted reproductive technology (ART) does not increase their risk of developing cancer. This is good news considering there has been some conflicting research results. Because IVF treatment can often expose women to high levels of hormones-- and in many cases over multiple rounds of treatment-- there is always the overhanging threat of what this could do for the children born after these treatments. But as we’ll see in this article:

  • The result of the long term study is good news
  • No increased risk of cancer in children
man looking into a microscope
The Dutch study was the first of its kind to continue with patient follow up until a median age of 21.

Results of the long term study

The study done by Prof. Flora van Leeuwen-- head of the Netherlands Cancer Institute-- set out to see if there was some credible evidence that taking IVF treatments could lead to an increased risk in childhood cancer.

This was the first study to have a median follow up of 21 years-- by having such a large period of follow-up, the researchers were able to have a long timeline of contact with the children. By seeing them for so many years afterwards, it gave the researchers access to incredible amounts of information regarding the development of children born after ART.

The study was also large-- there were 47,690 children who participated-- and were a mix of children who were conceived regularly and those conceived with ART. They found that out of this amount only 231 developed cancer. Of the children who did develop cancer, the researchers found that if the child was conceived via intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ISI) or through frozen embryos, they seemed to have an increased risk of developing cancer. The numbers were still so small that they concluded these findings could be just do to chance.

person taking blood samples
Couples undergoing IVF treatment can continue to do so, knowing there is not an increased risk of their children developing cancer.

No increased cancer risk for children

Because this particular study included those children conceived with the help of ART-- and those that were not-- the researchers found it incredibly important to also track other factors that surrounded the pregnancies and births. In order to see if there was an increased risk of cancer in children after ART, they had to consider:

  • Method of conception
  • Reason for infertility
  • The mother’s age
  • Whether they were a single or multiple births

This gave them a clearer picture to see if there are specific factors that would lead to an increased risk of cancer. The scientists were able to determine that of the 231 children who developed cancer, there were 31 cases of lymphoblastic leukemia and 26 of melanoma. They concluded that perhaps some fertility treatments might induce alterations in the genes associated with these cancers-- but that overall-- there is no increased risk in childhood cancer for those children conceived with ART and fertility treatment.

The results of this study are great news for couples everywhere hoping to conceive a child with fertility treatment. With no increased risk of cancer for any children they conceive, couples can continue with their infertility treatments.


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