IVF increases ovarian cancer risk

WOMEN desperate for a baby may be putting themselves at risk of death after research found that fertility treatment can double the chance of ovarian ­cancer.

Scientists have found that fertility treatment makes women twice as likely to develop the disease later in life, especially low-grade tumours.

Stimulating the ovaries of women undergoing in-vitro fertilisation increased the chances of patients being diagnosed with invasive or low-grade cancers 15 years later.

Overall, ovarian cancer rates were twice as high among women who had the treatment which forces the ovaries to produce extra eggs.

The main impact was on non-fatal, slow-growing “borderline ovarian tumours”. Ovary stimulation led to the risk of this type of low-grade cancer being raised four-fold.

Although not considered dangerous, borderline ovarian tumours still require extensive surgery.

The incidence of invasive tumours was higher than expected after 15 years among women who had undergone IVF.

However, despite this result being “concerning” to scientists, it was not considered statistically significant. Researchers analysed data on more than 19,146 women who had received at least one ovarian stimulation treatment, and 6,006 women who did not undergo IVF.

Ovarian cancer
Ovarian cancer

Of 61 women who had ovarian malignancies in the IVF treatment group, 31 had borderline ovarian cancer and 30 had invasive ovarian cancer.

Study leader Professor Flora van Leeuwen, from the Netherlands Cancer Institute in Amsterdam, said: “Our data clearly show that ovarian stimulation for IVF is associated with an increased risk of borderline ovarian tumours and this risk remains elevated up to more than 15 years after the first cycle of treatment.”

The long-term risk of potentially deadly invasive ovarian cancer was also raised.

After 15 years the observed number of cases was 3.54 times greater than expected among women who had undergone IVF.

In their paper, published online in the journal Human Reproduction, the scientists said this was “a concerning finding”, although the numbers involved were very small.

After 15 or more years, nine cases of invasive cancer were detected in the IVF group compared with a statistical prediction of 2.54.

Professor van Leeuwen said the result may have been influenced by how many children, if any, a woman receiving IVF treatment had already given birth to.

She stressed that the individual risk of developing either ovarian cancer was “very low”. Despite this, it is the fifth most common cancer among British women, with more than 6,500 cases diagnosed each year.

There are around 4,400 deaths a year from it.

Ovarian cancer has been called the “silent killer” because it is often not detected until it is lethal.

Professor Peter Braude, from King’s College London, said: “This is an important and ­worthwhile long-term study which goes some way to answering the questions that so many IVF patients ask.

“However, the results should be kept in proportion as the increase shown was from around five in 1,000 to seven per 1,000 women.

“This needs to be balanced against the intention of the treatment for those infertile to conceive a child.”

‘O’ blood group women face double fertility risk

A woman’s blood group could influence her chances of getting pregnant, scientists claim. Women with blood type O may struggle to conceive, they said, due to a lower egg count and poorer egg quality, according to a study. Women with blood group A seem to be better protected against falling egg counts.

The finding could prompt experts to look more closely at a woman’s blood group when charting her fertility. More than 560 women, with an average age of 35, who were undergoing fertility treatment took part in the research, led by experts from Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York and Yale University.


Blood samples were taken to measure levels of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), a well-known marker of fertility. FSH levels greater than 10 suggest a woman will have more difficulty conceiving than those whose levels are under 10. A high FSH level indicates a diminished ovarian reserve, which refers to both egg quality and the number of eggs left available for fertilisation. The ovarian reserve tends to decline significantly as a woman reaches her mid and late 30s and faster in the early 40s.

The study found that women with blood type O were twice as likely to have an FSH level greater than 10 as those in any other blood group. The findings held true even when a woman’s age was taken into account, and the fact the women came from two different clinics.

Those with blood group A were “significantly less likely” to have an FSH level greater than 10 than those who were blood group O. Some 44 per cent of the UK population are blood group O and 42 per cent are type A. People with blood group A carry the A antigen, which is a protein on the surface of the cell, but this is absent in people with O type.

Dr Edward Nejat, from the department of obstetrics and gynaecology at Albert Einstein College, said FSH levels were just one marker of fertility and more studies were needed. “A woman’s age remains the most important factor in determining her success of conceiving. The baseline FSH gives us an idea of the quality and quantity of a woman’s eggs.”