Fertility treatments and cancer



female_torso_statueWe know that some cancer treatments (e.g. radiation and chemotherapy) pose a serious risk to a patient’s fertility. It seems that this might also be true the other way around, i.e. certain fertility treatments may lead to an increased risk for cancer. Specifically, certain drugs used in fertility treatments can double a woman’s risk for uterine cancer, especially when used in the long term, e.g. approximately for ten years. This is according to a report by Danish researchers, recently published in the American Journal of Epidemiology. The said fertility drugs were identified as follows:

  • follicle-stimulating hormones
  • clomiphene, a treatment for women who have irregular ovulation
  • Human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), another treatment for irregular ovulation
  • Human menopausal gonadotropin (hMG)

The researchers looked at 54,362 women who underwent fertility treatments between 1985 and 1998 and followed up for 16 years, on average. The results revealed that

  • 51% of study participants who developed uterine cancer used fertility drugs
  • 50% of those who did not develop uterine cancer used fertility drugs.

These risks remained when the investigators further allowed for number of births, use of a single or multiple fertility drugs, causes of infertility, and any history of oral contraceptives.

The increased in cancer risk among fertility patients were not that high but still significant. According to lead author Dr. Allan Jensen of the Danish Cancer Society in Copenhagen:

Uterine cancer risk in fertility patients seemed about two times the usual risk but “the absolute risk of developing uterine cancer is still not very high” (Source: Reuters).

It is not clear how the risk is in women with a genetic disposition for uterine cancer.

The authors emphasize that the risks are only associated with specific drug treatments and the length of use. They further declare that

“any unfavorable effects from fertility drugs need to be balanced against the physical and psychological benefits of pregnancies that may only be possible with the use of fertility drugs.”

Couples who long for biological children but can’t have them naturally may feel that it is worth taking the risk to fulfil their wish. I certainly would feel the same way. What about you?

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NOTE: The contents in this blog are for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical advice, diagnosis, treatment or a substitute for professional care. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health professional before making changes to any existing treatment or program. Some of the information presented in this blog may already be out of date.
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