IVF Treatment Safe for Babies, Does Not Increase Risk of Childhood Cancer

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By Roshni Mahesh | November 7, 2013 5:09 PM EST

Babies conceived via In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) technique are not at a higher risk of developing cancer at childhood, a new study reveals.

The study published in The New England Journal of Medicine followed 106,000 British children from their birth to 15 years. All of the children were born between 1992 and 2008, with the help of IVF treatment or other artificial methods used to conceive. During the study period, the researchers collected information about the prevalence of different types of childhood cancer among the participants.

Of the total IVF children, 108 were diagnosed with cancer, lower than what the researchers had estimated (110).

At the end of the study, the researchers couldn't find any link between childhood cancer and the IVF treatment. Prevalence of common types of childhood cancers like retinoblastoma, leukaemia, neuroblastoma, germ cell tumours, central nervous system tumours and renal tumours was the same in both the IVF babies and naturally conceived children.

However, two rare types of childhood tumours known as hepatic tumours and bone tumours were more common among the IVF children than the naturally conceived group. As there were not enough cases, researchers couldn't prove whether the prevalence was caused by IVF conception. They said that factors like low birth weight, infertility problems of the parents could have contributed to this occurrence.

The study brings hope in thousands of people affected with fertility problems and those who hesitate to opt for fertility treatments due to the health risk associated with them.

"Our findings suggest that children conceived with IVF techniques have no greater risk of childhood cancer overall than naturally conceived children," Dr Alastair Sutcliffe, study author at University College London Hospital and honorary consultant paediatrician at Great Ormond Street Hospital, said in a news release. "These results are reassuring for parents who've had children in this way or are thinking about using it to conceive."

However, the findings contradict previous studies that found an association between various types of fertility treatments and health risks to the mother and the baby. A study published in the journal Fertility and Sterility, recently reported that fertility treatments increased the risk of childhood cancer by 33 percent. In 2012, a team of French researchers reported that fertility drugs more than doubled the risk of children developing acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL), which is the most common childhood form of leukaemia and increased the risk of another rare form known as acute myeloid leukaemia (AML), by 2.3times.

Apart from this, previous research has also shown that IVF babies are at higher risk of birth defects, asthma, wheezing, autism and other intellectual disabilities compared to naturally conceived children.  Countless studies that looked into the safety of IVF have also linked the procedure to breast cancer and ovarian cancer in the mother. 

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