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In Vitro Babies More Likely to Develop Childhood Cancer

Update Date: Oct 07, 2013 01:31 PM EDT

For infertile couples, starting a new family can be difficult but far from impossible. Due to advances in science over the past years, couples can opt for fertility treatments. For people who do not have the funds or cannot handle fertility treatments, which can place a huge toll on one's physical and mental health, there are other options such as adoption and surrogacy. These options might be more appealing for some couples as a new study revealed that babies born via in vitro fertilization (IVF) might be one third more likely to develop childhood cancer.

For this study, researchers examined 25 studies from 12 developed nations, which included the United States, the United Kingdom, Denmark, France and Israel. The studies were conducted between 1990 and 2010. The research team discovered that IVF babies had a 33 percent increased risk of childhood cancer. Their leukemia risk was increased by 65 percent. For brain or central nervous system cancers, the researchers found an 88 percent increased risk for IVF babies.

"The results of the largest meta-analysis on this topic to date indicate an association between fertility treatment and cancer in offspring," wrote author Dr. Marie Hargreave, of the Danish Cancer Society research center, Copenhagen reported by Daily Mail. "The etiology [origin] of childhood cancer is still largely unknown, but it has been hypothesized that fertility treatment may play a role."

During IVF, the egg is removed from the ovaries and then fertilized with sperm outside of the body and in a laboratory setting. The fertilized egg is then placed back into the womb where it grows. Although the researchers did not find a cause and effect relationship, they reasoned that during fertility treatments, there could be changes in the genetic imprinting system, which is when genes are passed down from parents to children that then affect the offspring's risk for diseases. The researchers also provided another explanation. They stated that during fertility treatments, anti-oestrogen drugs are given to help stimulate ovulation. These drugs are very similar to diethylstilbestrol, which was a drug that used to be given to women who had pregnancy complications. The drug was later tied to childhood cancer.

"Infertile couples may already have an increased number of epigenetic defects . . . which come to light through the treatment process," the authors stated as another possibility for the increased cancer risks.

This study was published in Fertility and Sterility

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