Women given drugs during fertility treatment to stimulate their ovaries to produce extra eggs have an increased risk of developing borderline ovarian tumours, Dutch researchers said on Thursday.
A large 15-year study found women undergoing in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) were twice as likely to develop ovarian malignancies — defined as either cancer or borderline tumours — as similarly sub-fertile women who were not treated.
The risk was concentrated in borderline tumours, which have abnormal cells that may become cancerous but usually do not. The danger of invasive ovarian cancer was slightly higher in the IVF treatment group but this was not statistically significant.
Fertility experts said the results showed there was a need for further research, although they stressed the apparent risks were still very low.
“This … goes some way to answering the questions that so many IVF patients ask. However, the results should be kept in proportion as the increase shown was from around five in a thousand to seven per thousand women,” said Peter Braude of Kings College London.
Braude, who was not involved in the Dutch study, said the possible risks needed to be balanced against the important objective of IVF in conceiving a child.
Lead researcher Flora van Leeuwen of the Netherlands Cancer Institute in Amsterdam said the findings were significant because the study was the first to include a comparison group of sub-fertile women not undergoing IVF.
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