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IVF and Ovarian Cancer

The truth about IVF and ovarian cancer

As I was reading the headlines in the news I came across a statement. “Women given drugs during fertility treatment to stimulate their ovaries to produce extra eggs have an increased risk of developing borderline ovarian tumors”, Dutch researchers said.  What ?!?! I continued to read the study. It said that women who had IVF treatment had double the likelihood of getting ovarian cancer. This study was published in the Human Reproduction journal.

Looking deeper

After reading and reviewing the Dutch study, I can say there is still not a higher risk of developing ovarian cancer due to IVF treatment.  This is a common question. In this study, many of the tumors found were Borderline tumors.  Borderline tumors are NOT cancer and they RARELY become cancer.

The study also states that the risk of a patient developing ovarian cancer as a result of fertility treatment was NOT statistically significantly higher than the baseline risk.  This means that there was NO increase in the rate of developing ovarian cancer in women going through IVF.  Many people wonder what does “statistically significant” mean and why is it important if something is NOT statistically significant.

Statistics are difficult to explain in general, but suffice it to say that if something is statistically significant it is unlikely to have occurred by chance.  Most scientific studies describe statistics in terms of a “p value” of <0.05.  If an observed difference in two groups of patients – in this case the chance of developing ovarian cancer in women undergoing fertility treatment compared to women not undergoing fertility treatment – is < 0.05, it means that there is a 95% chance that the difference between the two groups is real (not due to chance).  Who knew we were going to give you a quick refresher on statistics!  It is very important when trying to determine the validity of studies.

More about the risk

The risk of developing ovarian cancer, in the study, (which again was NOT statistically significant) rose from 5/1000 for those patients who did not have fertility treatment to 7/1000 for those patients who did.  In other words, 99.3% of women undergoing IVF did not get cancer, and 99.5% of the control group did not either.

The researchers also found that the risk of developing ovarian cancer was  independent of the number of IVF cycles the patient underwent as well as the amount of fertility medications the patient was on.  Since IVF cycles unique to each individual’s needs it would seem logical that the amount of exposure to the medications would play a role in the cancer risk.

The studies about IVF and ovarian cancer

Almost all previously published studies have found that there is not a direct  correlation between fertility medications and ovarian cancer.  Infertility itself raises a woman’s risk of getting ovarian cancer. However, there is little data that suggests that the fertility medication itself increase the risk of ovarian cancer.  In the US, the baseline rate of ovarian cancer is 1%.  In addition, infertility alone raises this rate above 1% (in the US).  Therefore, even the highest rate in this study is less than the BASELINE rate in the US. As such, this study should not sound any alarms about fertility treatment raising the risk of ovarian cancer.

It is important to remember you can’t always believe everything that you read.  TFC is committed to making sure patients receive the correct information and the best treatment available. Current studies have found that IVF treatment is not known to increase the risk of ovarian cancer.

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