Ovarian cancers caused by IVF infertility treatments

Thursday, October 27, 2011 by: S. L. Baker, features writer
Tags: infertility treatments, ovarian cancer, health news

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(NaturalNews) In vitro (which means "outside the body") fertilization, better known as IVF, is the joining of a woman's egg and a man's sperm in a laboratory dish. The fertilized egg is placed in the lining of the woman's womb and, if the fetus continues to grow, a baby is born in about 9 months. Although a huge money making part of the infertility industry, IVF has many downsides including the fact it is enormously expensive. A single IVF cycle treatment can cost over $12,000 and it can take many IVF treatments to achieve a pregnancy.

What's more, the success rate after spending all this money is only about 13 to 43 percent, depending on the age of the would-be mother, with older moms having less chance of a successful pregnancy. On top of these drawbacks, the drugs given for ovarian stimulation have a host of side effects, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), including bloating, abdominal pain, mood swings and headaches.

Now there's evidence of an even more potentially horrendous side effect to this baby making technology -- ovarian cancer. Researchers from the Netherlands have discovered that women whose ovaries are stimulated into producing extra eggs for IVF double their risk of having ovarian malignancies later in life, compared to women who never undergo IVF. The study was just published in Europe's leading reproductive medicine journal Human Reproduction.

The specific type of ovarian growths found that are most likely spurred by IVF are known as borderline ovarian tumors. While far less deadly than invasive ovarian malignancies, they are nothing that can be ignored. The researchers found that of the 25,152 women with fertility problems included in their study, 77 developed ovarian cancers. Surprisingly, of the 61 women who had ovarian malignancies in the group that had been treated with IVF, 31 had borderline ovarian cancer and 30 had invasive ovarian cancer.

Unusually high number of ovarian tumors in later years

In a statement to the media, lead researcher Professor Flora van Leeuwen, who heads the Department of Epidemiology in The Netherlands Cancer Institute in Amsterdam, noted this proportion of ovarian borderline tumors was unusually high. She warned that although borderline ovarian tumors have a low potential to be fatal, they "would require extensive surgery and cause substantial morbidity."

Even after the research team adjusted for factors that could confound the results such as the age of the women, if they had already given birth and the cause of their fertility problems, the long-term risks for ovarian malignancies and borderline ovarian tumors were significantly higher in the IVF treatment group compared with the group of women not treated with IVF. For all ovarian malignancies and for borderline ovarian cancer, there was a two and four-fold higher risk, respectively, in the IVF treatment group. In addition, although not seen as "statistically significant," the bottom line is that invasive ovarian cancer was also increased somewhat in the IVF treatment group.

"Our data clearly show that ovarian stimulation for IVF is associated with an increased risk of borderline ovarian tumors and this risk remains elevated up to more than 15 year after the first cycle of treatment," Professor van Leeuwen said in the media statement.

The scientists are currently expanding their study population to include an additional 8,800 women who started their IVF ovarian stimulation treatment between 1995 and 2000, with an emphasis on those who have had three or more treatment cycles. They are also adding 4,200 women with fertility problems (dubbed "subfertile") who were not treated with IVF in the years 1980 to 2000.

"If we find out that women who receive several IVF cycles or large doses of ovarian stimulating drugs are at a greater risk of ovarian cancer, then these women would need to be informed about these risks when continuing IVF treatment and possibly advised to discontinue treatment after three to six cycles (depending on which number of cycles would be associated with the high risk of ovarian malignancies)," Professor van Leeuwen concluded.

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