Children born via in vitro fertilization may have slightly higher cancer rates


One of the early fears about in vitro fertilization at its inception more than 30 years ago was that the procedure might cause genetic or other health problems in children conceived in that manner. It’s clear that IVF is very safe. However, several studies suggest a slightly higher risk of birth defects and some types of illness among children born via IFV that parents should be aware of. The latest study indicates cancer may occur more often.

Previous studies looking for a link between cancer and IVF have found nothing. However, the largest study yet on the question has found such a link. Swedish researchers examined data from 26,692 children who worn born after IVF during 1982 through 2005. Based on the normal rates of cancer in the general population, 38 cases of cancer would be expected among this group of children. However, 53 cases of cancer were found.

Previous studies have shown that IVF babies have a slightly higher rate of certain birth defects, such as heart problems and cleft palates. And, last month, researchers presented data showing the rates of autism were higher in a large group of IVF children compared with children conceived naturally.

It’s not clear just how IVF may cause birth defects or later health problems. It could have nothing to do with the actual IVF procedure, the authors of the new study note. In the study, the increased risk of cancer was linked to preterm birth, low birth weight, respiratory and low Apgar scores. Thus the increase cancer risk could be due to some unknown characteristics of women who undergo IVF or from complications at birth. “... It should be stressed that the individual risk for a child who is born after IVF to develop childhood cancer is low,” the authors wrote.

The study is published in the journal Pediatrics.

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