Danish researchers found that in-vitro fertilization (IVF) is associated with a greater risk of breast cancer. In the annual meeting for the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology in Vienna, the researchers said that women who had a fertility treatment were up to 65 percent more likely to develop breast cancer than women who did not receive a fertility procedure. The association is most pronounced in middle-aged women.
The finding, according to the researchers, may be explained by the presence of powerful drugs used to stimulate women's ovaries so they can produce more eggs.
For their study, the researchers tracked more than 600,000 women in Denmark between 1994 and 2015. Nearly 60,000 of these women received fertility treatment, including IVF.
After comparing the data of these women to that of women who did not go through a fertility procedure, the researchers found that those who received fertility treatment had a 10 percent higher risk of breast cancer than the latter group of women. The finding was more pronounced in women aged 40 and above, registering a 65 percent higher risk of breast cancer after receiving a fertility procedure.
One explanation for this stronger association is that older women may sometimes need a higher dose of drugs to better stimulate their ovaries and increase estrogen levels. While estrogen is needed by all women to be able to grow eggs, high levels of the hormone are linked to breast cancer, especially after menopause.
Fertility expert Dr. Geeta Nargund of St George's Hospital in London, who was not part of the study, said that the findings serve as a "wake-up call about the use of high dose stimulation in IVF, especially in women over the age of 40."
Dr. Jane Stewart, chair of the British Fertility Society, also said that fertility specialists should not be complacent about the long-term effects of modern fertility treatment. She said: "Previous studies have been reassuring [regarding] breast cancer [risk] but clearly the discussion is not closed."
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