Coming a month after the death of British journalist Ruth Picardie, who died of breast cancer two years after giving birth to twins conceived by in vitro fertilization, a study has been released that shows a link between fertility treatments and breast cancer.
The report studied 38 women who had received in vitro fertilization (IVF) and developed breast cancer within an average of three years after the treatment. Another unpublished Israeli study supports the British study’s conclusions that IVF could trigger the growth of cancer cells, but says that the risk is still minimal.
Researchers suggest that the gonadotrophin hormone given to women to stimulate egg production could also cause existing cancer cells to proliferate. “It is possible that if the cancer already exists, IVF treatment may accelerate its development. I think doctors should examine women before giving them treatment,” said head researcher Olivier Jourdain.
The study provoked a nationwide call for cancer screening for women who want IVF treatment, especially women with a family history of breast cancer. Mary Croughan Minihane, a researcher at the University of California who is studying cancer among women treated for infertility between 1965 and now, said “If I was a patient with a history of breast cancer or with a family history of it, I wouldn’t take the risk of having infertility treatment; I would go for adoption instead.”
Many researchers say that the risk is insignificant, and stress that more long-term studies need to be done. Dr. Nancy Phillips of St. Louis University Hospital said that because women who have their first pregnancies at a later age have slightly increased breast cancer risks anyway, studies of this type “need to use as statistical controls women with a similar infertility history who have not undergone the drug therapy. Cautious concern, not panic, is called for at this time.”