no increased cancer risk from fertility meds?

A new study suggests that there is no significant increased risk of developing ovarian cancer from drugs used to stimulate the ovaries in fertility treatment.  

There has been much debate and controversy as to whether short or long term exposure to ovarian stimulation drugs could have adverse health effects. The biggest long term concern is ovarian cancer, a particularly deadly form since it is difficult to detect.  

Although many infertiles and singles may opt not to think too hard about the risk of developing ovarian cancer in the quest for a baby — given the potential outcome of treatment — it is still a common concern causing anxiety in many. While health risks are disclosed in the fine print of any package of medicine, many doctors (especially REs) tend to dismiss these risks as minimal or insignificant. Besides, for most, the potential benefit of a real baby far outweighs some abstract, unproven, long term health risk, in terms of likelihood and immediacy. 

Still, few long term studies have resolved the ongoing controversy. Previous studies suggesting an increased risk for ovarian cancer were limited by small samples and may have been too short to adequately assess long term risk. In addition, because infertility is a risk factor for ovarian cancer, it is difficult to determine whether increased risk is attributable to infertility itself or drugs used in fertility treatment. It is also difficult to control for potentially confounding factors such as oral contraceptives. 

Recently published in the British Medical Journal [abstracteditorial, full article], the new study covered over 54,362 women undergoing treatment at all Denmark fertility clinics between 1963 and 1998. Four sets of drugs were evaluated (gonadotrophins, hCG, gonadotrophin releasing hormones, and clomid). The median age at referral was 30, and the median age at follow-up was 47.

While further long-term study is needed to track participants as they continue to age, researchers found no compelling increased risk even for women undergoing multiple treatments. Apparently researchers did find a significant increased risk for a common yet serious type of ovarian cancer among women who used clomid, but they suggest this may be attributable to chance. 

Will these findings relieve the anxiety that many women (and men) have about the long term effects of treatment? According to the editorial, “These data are reassuring and provide further evidence that fertility drugs do not increase a woman’s risk of ovarian cancer to any great extent, although small increases in risk cannot be ruled out.” 

~ by luna on February 6, 2009.

14 Responses to “no increased cancer risk from fertility meds?”

  1. Thanks for the post, luna. One less thing to worry about (until the study comes out that says this study is all wrong).

  2. Thanks, Luna. Concern about the increased cancer risk was one reason why I decided not to continue with treatment (certainly not the only one, but definitely a factor I didn’t want to ignore).

  3. Good info. I can’t imagine how devastated I would be if those treatments that I spent all that money on with no reward resulted in cancer!!

  4. I’m so glad you posted this. I really got fed up with the language surrounding the reporting of the earlier (less conclusive) studies, because the scare tactics started sounding a bit condescending and judgmental toward women undergoing any form of ART. I also hope OBs read this study (I’m guessing for the REs it will be bedside reading) because I think they’re guilty of throwing clomid at problems they don’t really understand, and keeping patients on for lengths of time that an RE would not. I’d actually be interested to see the breakdown (if they did it) of how long women were on clomid, if their usage was broken up over time (e.g., used twice and got pregnant; used again two years later, etc.) or if they were just slammed with it for six months in a row.

    Anyway, thanks! I saw this in the paper and was so relieved a long term study was undertaken. WIsh people would pay attention to these things.

  5. Nope, can’t say it makes me feel much better. I want to have a baby and then a hysterectomy. The side of effect of never again having a period would be awesome in my book.

  6. It’s something I think about–but more along the lines of breast cancer and the risk of not taking progesterone to lengthen my cycle (because without it, I have betweeen 15–17 periods per year). But also the use of the drugs too. Damned if you do? Damned if you don’t? Or perhaps it does have no effect?

  7. Thanks for pointing this out. It is nice to hear.

  8. Thanks for posting this…we did 5 fresh and 1 frozen cycles, so the thought has come in and out of my head over the years. While we were going through it, my husband wondered more than I did.

  9. The risks associated with fertility drugs (and any lingering long term effects) has often made me wonder if I was responsible for shaving a few years off of my life. sigh. Really hope these studies are as good as they look. Would hate to think I created new reasons to go to the hospital! I hate that place…

  10. Hmmmmm…

  11. That would be nice to be true, with all the drugs I pumped in over the years.

  12. This is really interesting, although part of me seems to think that we have the data on the c.lomid because it’s been in greater use for a longer period of time. I’m interested to see what the research will look like in 20 years for IVF meds. In the mean time, it does help ease my mind a bit. Thanks for the great follow up on this.

  13. My docs have assured me they believe there is no increased risk as well. I guess that’s good but I still worry because I am still at high risk because I’ll never be pregnant, carry to term, or breastfeed (all things that decrease the risk of female-type cancer). Then again, I could get hit by a bus tomorrow, too.

    Whoa. That was cynical. *ahem*

  14. I am SO glad to read this. I have to admit that it was one of the concerns I had while I was on the meds. Good to know we won’t be penalized twice:)

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