Results of a large study unveiled in Auckland show a link
between women with fertility problems and an increased risk
of cancer in their children.
The study of more than two million people in Denmark was
presented at the Fertility Society of Australia conference in
The researchers, from the Danish Cancer Society Research
Centre and Copenhagen University, found a 17 per cent higher
overall rate of adult and child cancers
in the offspring of women who had fertility problems than in
those born to fertile women.
"[This] is mainly explained by an increased risk of
leukaemias in childhood, and ... by an increased risk of skin
cancer, cancer of the urinary tract and cancer in the
endocrine glands in adulthood," Dr Marie Hargreave
told the conference.
"For all other childhood cancer types and adulthood cancer
sites we found no statistically significant associations."
The increase in the relative risk of childhood leukaemias was
greater, at 33 per cent, than for cancer overall.
Dr Hargreave said other studies had pointed to a potential
increased risk of cancer in children who were conceived
through the use of assisted reproductive technology, but the
results had been inconsistent and were
limited by imprecise risk estimates.
"Furthermore, if negative effects of assisted reproductive
technology are present, they could be related to the
underlying infertility rather than the procedure itself."
Auckland University professor of biostatistics, Thomas
Lumley, said the study appeared very reliable for
demonstrating that there was a higher risk in children of
infertile women, but didn't allow any reliable
conclusions about the reasons.
"Part of the background to this is that a drug used to
prevent miscarriage in the 1950s and 1960s,
diethylstilboestrol, caused a specific, rare form of cancer
in female offspring."
Fertility Society president Dr Mark Bowman said there was no
conclusive evidence the increased cancer risk reported by Dr
Hargreave was "directly associated" with fertility treatment.
"Importantly, the research
involves offspring born since 1963, nearly two decades before
IVF came to Denmark.
"Since the first in-vitro fertilisation baby was born in
Britain in 1978, five million babies have been born through
this technology around the world. Overwhelmingly, these IVF
offspring ... enjoy very good health."
- Martin Johnston, New Zealand Herald