There has long been speculation that women who undergo in vitro fertilization are at greater risk for ovarian cancer. It's been hard, however, to confirm this link because infertile women have a higher rate of ovarian cancer to start with. So it's difficult to sort out whether it's the underlying infertility or the IVF procedure (which requires stimulating ovaries with hormones) that's causing the cancer.
But now a new study is shedding some light on the relationship between IVF and ovarian cancer. Researchers in the Netherlands studied 25,152 Dutch women with fertility problems, 19,146 of whom did IVF. They found after 15 years that women who'd had IVF were twice as likely to have had a malignancy in their ovaries compared to those who didn't have IVF. Now, that sounds scary, but in fact there are a number of finer points to consider before condemning IVF as terrible and dangerous.
First, most of the ovarian tumors that were found were "borderline" tumors, which can turn cancerous but even then are considered highly treatable. Still, they are tumors, and it turns out the IVF group had a lot more of them than the control group:
The IVF group was nearly twice as likely to have a borderline tumor as the general population, and more than four times as likely as the subfertile comparison group.
Okay, but even considering this rather dire-sounding pronouncement, there's not a huge cause for concern because the overall likelihood of an IVF patient developing cancer is still extremely low.
Researchers found just 61 ovarian malignancies in the IVF group, 31 of which were borderline tumors. In the Netherlands, the researchers note, the cumulative risk of ovarian malignancy, including borderline tumors, is 0.45% in women aged 55. "If our results are true, we would estimate a 0.71% risk for women who underwent IVF," they write - a less than 1% chance.
And add to that the fact that ovarian cancer rates didn't increase in those women who'd had multiple IVF cycles, so it suggests that it's not the hormonal stimulation part of the procedure that's upping their risk. What is it then? No word on that yet, but hopefully someone will figure it out soon. In any case, remain calm. There really is no reason to worry if you've had IVF or are considering getting it. Deep breaths!
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