Fertility drugs and ovarian cancer: it’s all by chance

February 16, 2009 by  
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The first in vitro fertilization (IVF) baby was born in the UK over 30 years ago. Since then, millions of women have undergone different types of fertility treatments as part of the so-called assisted reproduction technology.

There has been considerable debate on whether fertility drugs can increase women’s risk of developing ovarian cancer. Previous studies gave inconclusive and sometimes conflicting results and this is a major concern for women who undergo several cycles of fertility treatment in hope of becoming pregnant.

The latest research brings good news to women who are undergoing fertility treatment. Danish researchers have reported that fertility drugs do not increase women’s risk of getting ovarian cancer. Allan Jensen and colleagues at the Danish Cancer Society conducted a research on 54,362 women with infertility problems and referred to Danish fertility clinics between 1963 and 1998. The study was designed to evaluate the effects of fertility drugs on the risk to ovarian cancer. Of the over 5,000 participants, the number of women who developed ovarian cancer was 156. The researchers adjusted the risk factors and assessed the effects of four types of fertility drugs over an average period of 16 years. The results showed that the use of any fertility drug does not increase the risk for ovarian cancer. It also showed that there was no increased risk in women who had undergone 10 or more fertility treatments, regardless whether these resulted in pregnancy or not. The authors, however, have observed some increased risk on women who used the drug clomiphene although they believe that the association was just by chance.

According to the authors:

Our results show no convincing association between the overall risk for ovarian cancer and use of fertility drugs, and are generally reassuring”

However, they do point out that, as many of the study participants have not yet reached the peak age for ovarian cancer, they will continue to monitor the risk.

These findings are very reassuring for fertility patients and doctors alike. Nowadays, when women are putting off childbearing as late as possible, the incidence of fertility problems is high. For many women, fertility treatments are their only hope to fulfill their wish for children. According to Penelope Webb of the Queensland Institute of Medical research

Some women who take fertility drugs will inevitably develop ovarian cancer by chance alone, but the current evidence suggests that women who use these drugs are not increasing their risk of developing this highly fatal cancer.

Photo credit: stock.xchng

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