Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) has been successfully employed to treat infertility. In vitro fertilization (IVF) is one form of ART, and it is unclear whether it increases the risks of birth defects . Since childhood cancers, such as leukemia, occur earlier in life, it is reasonable to question if factors related to early embryonic development and intrauterine environment may play a role in their occurrence.
A recent study from Norway suggests a slightly increased risk of childhood leukemia and Hodgkin’s lymphoma among children born through the use of ART. The findings were based on a review of children born between the years 1984 and 2011 and the use of ART. The data were then paired with cancer registry data. Out of 4500 cancer patients identified, 51 were conceived via ART. Although overall cancer risk was not found to be increased among ART children, the odds of leukemia and Hodgkin’s lymphoma were.
As pointed out by Dr. Susan Amirian, assistant professor with the Baylor College of Medicine’s Duncan Cancer Center in an accompanying editorial, although the findings suggest a possible association, the very small numbers of actual cases (17 cases of leukemia and 3 cases of Hodgkin’s lymphoma) call for caution in interpretation of the results. It would require more studies to establish a true association. Certainly other health factors that result in infertility may play a role in the apparent association.
At this point, the study results should not deter parents from using assisted reproductive technology and only careful monitoring of children born using the techniques is warranted. Take a look at this link for more information about this study.