Previous studies suggested that women who used these assisted reproductive technologies (ART) such as IVF to get pregnant might be at risk for ovarian cancer and non-malignant borderline tumors, due to increased levels of sex hormones needed to stimulate egg production, as well as several punctures that disrupt ovarian tissue.
ART involves removing eggs from a woman’s ovaries surgically, fertilizing them in a lab, and then placing them in the uterus.
In this study, researchers analyzed data from the Netherlands to compare more than 30,600 women who received ovarian stimulation for antiretroviral therapy between 1983 and 2001 and nearly 10,000 infertile women who did not receive such treatment.
After a median follow-up of 24 years, the women had 158 invasive cancers and 100 borderline ovarian tumors. (The median means half was followed longer, half as long.)
Significantly, women who had ART did not have a higher risk of cancer than infertile women who did not have ART – even after more than 20 years.
Compared to women in the general population, women who used antiretroviral therapy had a higher risk of ovarian cancer.
The researchers said this was mainly because a higher proportion of women who received ART had never had children. Childlessness has been shown to be a significant risk factor for ovarian cancer, according to the study’s authors published Nov. 17 in JNCI: Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
They also found that the risk of ovarian cancer decreased in women with more successful cycles of antiretroviral therapy leading to childbirth.
Compared to women in the general population and infertile women who did not have ART, women who had ART had almost double the chance of developing borderline ovarian tumors, according to the study.
But the risk did not increase after more cycles of treatment or longer follow-up, suggesting that it could be due to the patient’s underlying characteristics rather than the ART itself, the researchers said.
“Reassuringly, women who have received ovarian stimulation for assisted reproduction technology do not have an increased risk of malignant ovarian cancer, not even in the long term,” said lead author Flora van Leeuwen, an epidemiologist at the Dutch Cancer Institute in Amsterdam.
“However, it’s important to realize that even with our study’s long follow-up, the median age of women at the end of follow-up was only 56 years old,” she said in a press release.
Noting that the incidence of ovarian cancer in the population increases in old age, van Leeuwen said it is important to follow women who have had antiretroviral treatment for even longer.
To learn more about ovarian cancer, see the American Cancer Society.
: JNCI: Journal of the National Cancer Institute, press release, November 17, 2020