22 July 2016
New research from the Netherlands has offered reassurance to women undergoing in vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatment that they will not see an increase in their risk of breast cancer as a result.
Carried out by the Netherlands Cancer Institute in Amsterdam, the study's findings, if confirmed, may help to address potential health concerns among couples who rely on IVF techniques to conceive.
The research was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and assessed the long-term risk of breast cancer after ovarian stimulation for IVF among 19,158 women who started IVF treatment between 1983 and 1995, as well as 5,950 women starting other fertility treatments between 1980 and 1995.
Insights into this potential link were sought due to the current lack of medical consensus over whether this risk can be considered significant. It is known that IVF procedures temporarily cause decreased oestradiol and progesterone levels in the body, as well as strongly elevated hormone levels, which are factors that could potentially influence breast cancer risk. Because breast cancer is the most common cancer type and large numbers of women undergo ovarian stimulation for IVF, even a small risk increase would have potentially wide-ranging public health implications.
The Dutch study was intended to cast light on this, with the 25,108 women involved in the research largely being in their mid-50s at the end of the follow-up period. A total of 839 cases of invasive breast cancer and 109 cases of in situ breast cancer were found to have occurred after a median follow-up of 21 years.
Analysis showed that the risk of breast cancer among IVF-treated women was not significantly different from that of the general population, or from those receiving a form of fertility treatment other than IVF. The cumulative incidence rate of breast cancer at age 55 was shown to be three per cent for the IVF group and 2.9 per cent for the non-IVF group.
It was also shown that breast cancer risk did not differ according to the different types of fertility drugs or subfertility diagnoses, and was not increased at 20 or more years after IVF treatment. Women with seven or more IVF cycles had a significantly decreased risk of breast cancer compared with those who had only undergone one or two cycles, while a poor response to the first cycle was also associated with a decreased risk.
The authors concluded: "These findings are consistent with the absence of a significant increase in the long-term risk of breast cancer among women treated with these IVF regimens."
IVF remains one of the most commonly utilised fertility treatment approaches. While it does not always result in a live birth, it has shown to be an effective method of conception, with younger women more likely to benefit than older females.
Posted by Jeanette Royston
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