Does IVF Increase Your Child’s Risk Of Cancer?

Does in vitro fertilisation or IVF raise the child’s odd of blood cancer?

Updated
Health News
3 min read
Researchers are looking into the subtle effects each part of the IVF process can have on a developing embryo – effects that continue into later life (Photo: iStock)

Three things are certain in modern life: death, taxes and babies from unprotected sex. Well, not for everyone. 1 in 8 couples have fertility issues in urban India and the number of them seeking in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) is on the rise, big time.

A major study has found that children born as a result of IVF have a 67 per cent increased risk of leukaemia or blood cancer and a three times more risk of Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Pause for thought and scroll below to understand the full implications of this research on test tube babies.

Nothing in Medicine is Risk-Free

 The study suggests fertility treatment may change the way certain genes function when they are passed from parent to child in a process known as ‘genomic imprinting’ (Photo: iStock)
The study suggests fertility treatment may change the way certain genes function when they are passed from parent to child in a process known as ‘genomic imprinting’ (Photo: iStock)

Scientists in Norway studied more than 1.6 million children for nearly three decades, of which 25,000 were born via IVF and concluded that nearly 67 per cent had an increased risk of blood cancer and triple the risk of Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

The Norway study is not the first to raise questions about the health effects of children born through in vitro fertilisation.

Several large-scale studies carried out by The University of California, and another one published in the prestigious medical journal The New England Journal of Medicine, have previously corroborated the heightened risk of autism and cancer by almost 50% in IVF babies.

The British Fertility Society has found that up to 5% of IVF babies have “something wrong with them” in comparison to the 1% risk in babies conceived naturally. The most important thing is to discover the cause of the discrepancy.

A priority for researchers should be finding how many elements of the IVF process - such as freezing the embryos, how they are grown in the lab, how long they are kept out of the mother and how they are stored- could be responsible for those effects and how tweaks to the process could make it safer.

Related Read: Here’s How Your Eggs and His Sperms Age With Time

Possible Reasons For the IVF-Cancer Link

The results of the long-term Norway study are statistically significant but scientists are blissfully unaware how exactly IVF raises the blood cancer risk for children.

Researchers did not find the risk of other cancers besides Hodgkin’s and blood cancer (Photo: iStock)
Researchers did not find the risk of other cancers besides Hodgkin’s and blood cancer (Photo: iStock)

However, parental genetics might have a role to play, in that whatever has contributed to the parents’ infertility might also increase their children’s cancer risk.

Another big factor, mothers who use IVF to conceive often do so later in life, older mothers as it is have a heightened risk for childhood cancers and autism.

The findings are an implication that something is wrong, it surely does not warrant sounding any alarm. What is needed is following up IVF babies for the next 20 to 30 years in a highly controlled trial and then determining the exact consequences of using this technique.

What is appalling is that, since the first IVF baby in 1978, nearly 4 decades later, there has hardly been any monitoring of these babies and their mothers. But this long overdue research is not in place already because of the stigma associated with infertility. Once a couple gets pregnant, they don’t want people to know that they had treatment and refuse for a follow-up too.

According to a Scottish survey, women who are in the middle of IVF would rather give birth to children with crippling diseases like cerebral palsy, autism, and visual impairment than have no biological child at all!

The word family can mean so many different things to different people. An IVF baby is a modern miracle, but we really need to pause, think and know bonafide facts about what we’re getting into.

Also Read: What Does a Cancer Diagnosis in Pregnancy Mean for the Baby?

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