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IVF not linked to higher childhood cancer risk

9 July 2013
Appeared in BioNews 713

Children born as a result of assisted conception do not have a higher risk of developing cancer during childhood than those conceived spontaneously, according to a large UK study.

'This is reassuring news for couples considering assisted conception, their subsequent children, fertility specialists and for the wider public health', said the researchers from the Institute of Child Health.

The team looked at 106,381 children born after assisted reproductive technology (ART) between 1992 and 2008, and cross-referenced information from Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) records with data from the UK's National Registry of Childhood Tumours. They found that these children did not go on to develop common cancers more than those conceived naturally.

'It's a question that hasn't been answered before', said Dr Carrie Williams, who conducted the research. 'But now we have good evidence to suggest that children born after IVF and associated techniques have no increased risk of cancer'. She added: 'This is a good indicator of the general resilience of children born after IVF'.

Dr Allan Pacey, chair of the British Fertility Society, welcomed the results: 'This is a common question that patients ask - we can now answer it.'

However, the study found that children born through ART had a slightly higher risk of developing rare cancers, such as tumours of the liver and connective tissue. The researchers said that this finding is likely to be 'due to chance' because of the low number of people with these cancers in the population, and the risk still remains very small. 'Because these tumours are very rare, very few of our cohort developed these cancers', said Dr Williams.

The HFEA commented on the results, saying it was 'delighted to see that this study has found there to be no increased risk of cancer to children born as a result of assisted reproduction treatment'.

'The fact that a study of this size has found no association between ART and childhood cancer should offer comfort to those patients facing the difficult decision about whether to undergo fertility treatment or not.'

Stephen Harbottle, from the Association of Clinical Embryologists (ACE), said: 'Here at ACE we are very happy with the news that a large UK retrospective study linking assisted reproduction treatment with the likelihood of childhood cancer has revealed no greater risk of cancer in children born as a result of ART. These findings offer much needed additional reassurance to parents with concerns over the safety of having treatment and will undoubtedly help to alleviate some of the anxiety associated with the ART process.'

The results were presented at the annual meeting of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology.

HFEA welcomes study finding no increased cancer risk in children born through assisted conception
Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (press release) |  9 July 2013
Large UK population study finds no increased cancer risk in children born after assisted conception
EurekAlert (press release) |  9 July 2013
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