I decided that I wanted to start doing some sort of Science Friday postings based on either something I wanted to discuss or on some science news that I had recently read.
Since we were discussing a few weeks ago whether or not there was an increased risk to women undergoing fertility drug treatment to harvest eggs (both as egg donors and for women undergoing IVF treatment), an article in the December 10th issue of New Scientist, Fertility Drugs Increase Cancer Risk, caught my eye.
Based on this most recently published study, ovulation-inducing drugs seem to have increased the risk of uterine cancer in a group of women who were treated with the drugs over 30 years ago. In a sample size of 15,000 women that had been followed for thirty years, the women in the group who had received the ovulation-inducing drugs had three times the incidence of uterine cancer than members of the group who had not been given these drugs.
For the women who were getting a specific type of drug which tricks the body into making extra eggs by blocking estrogen receptors (clomiphene), the risk was over four times greater. There were also smaller but significant increases in breast cancer, malignant melanoma and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma associated with taking the drugs.
While it's difficult to draw too many conclusions from this particular study, one thing it does do is bring attention to the fact that more research needs to be done. I think it's also important that the women receiving these drugs be aware of any potential risks so they can be monitored for them.
Now, I am in no way (as I said before in my previous post) against IVF or trying to dissuade women from using IVF as a method of fertility treatment. But, since I have friends who have donated eggs multiple times and my husband worked in IVF for a number of years, this has always been something that has nagged me at the back of my mind: what's the long and short-term risk?
It was one of the warnings on the consent form my friend signed: at the time they did not know what the long-term effects were from the fertility drugs. Mostly the unknown was related to future fertility. So, I wonder if there will be any new information or education (based on this study) given to women receiving ovulation-inducing drugs, or if the results aren't considered that statistically significant to warrant any additional warnings.
Would knowing that you are at a small, but increased risk for a variety of cancers prevent you from using IVF as a fertility treatment if you were a candidate? Would it prevent you from being a donor?