Protest against IVF
A man holds a sign that reads "Error, terror, pain, in vitro" during a protest against the decree signed by Costa Rica's President Luis Guillermo Solis, legalizing in-vitro fertilization (IVF) in front of the Supreme Court in San Jose, Costa Rica September 15, 2015. Reuters/Juan Carlos Ulate

The biggest study of fertility treatment in the world found that infertile women who resort to the reproductive technology “In Vitro Fertilisation” (IVF) have an increased risk of developing ovarian cancer. Researchers said that the risk is higher than with natural conception, and they suggest that IVF patients consider regular screening.

Earlier studies have found that ovarian stimulation that is used to harvest eggs has the potential of triggering cancer, but most specialists argue against the finding. However, researchers of the new study suggest that their finding "leaves open the possibility" in considering the procedure as the cause of the disease.

Scientists at University College London analysed each IVF procedure from the records of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) in Britain from 1991 to 2010. The records involve over 250,000 women.

The analysis showed that the risk increases three years after treatment and was highest in younger women. "Certain results argue against an association with assisted reproductive technology itself, but others leave open the possibility that it might affect risk," the authors concluded.

“There was an increased risk of ovarian cancer,” said Professor Alastair Sutcliffe of the Institute of Child Health at UCL. However, the researchers noted that the findings indicate a small risk from the procedure, according to The Telegraph.

The analysis of the records reveals that only 15 in every 10,000 women in the study developed ovarian cancer within the research period. The figure covers about 11 in 10,000 overall.

However, the findings are still a cause for concern, according to Professor Geeta Nargund, medical director of Create Fertility in the UK. "We should be moving towards milder stimulation and fewer drugs. The causative factors at the moment are not clear, but until they are, we should support cancer screening on the NHS," she said.

The findings were supported by Dr Adam Balen, a professor of reproductive medicine at the University of Leeds. According to him, the study suggests that women who have IVF with certain conditions, like endometriosis, “may be at increased risk of developing ovarian cancer."

Meanwhile, IVF patients should not be overly alarmed as the study “doesn't prove fertility treatment increases ovarian cancer risk,” said Dr Julie Sharp, head of health information at Cancer Research UK. According to her, the researchers pointed out that the risk of developing ovarian cancer may be linked to low fertility.

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