Fertility Treatment Cancer Links, Rethinking IVF Funding

fertility treatment

Fertility treatment, IVF and third-party reproduction have been in the headlines the past few weeks. Following is a recap. The reporting, I think you’ll agree, was particularly revealing and thought-provoking. As always, welcome your thoughts.

Fertility Treatment and Cancer

You never want to see the words fertility treatment and breast cancer in the same headline, but there it was this week: Fertility Treatments May Up Breast Cancer Risk

That was just one of a few reports following a study released in the journal Breast Cancer Research. Researchers at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, led by Frida Lundberg, surveyed 43,313 women aged from 40-69 years, who had mammograms from 2010-2013. The study included women who underwent controlled ovarian stimulation – a key part of most IVF and other fertility treatments.

Given all the breast cancer awareness campaigns in the United States, this study was weirdly under-reported here in this country. Not so if you lived outside the U.S.  (It was reminiscent of the ‘look the other way’ response concerning ovarian cancer risks and IVF last fall.)

The media in Scotland, England and India did report on the breast cancer risk and related findings. A news report from The Herald in Scotland included this observation:

Commenting on the study, Paul Pharoah, professor of cancer epidemiology at the University of Cambridge, said: “The investigators found that infertility and some infertility treatments were associated with small but significant increases in breast density, even after controlling for other factors associated with breast density such as body mass index and pregnancies. This finding suggests that infertility treatment might be associated with an increased risk of breast cancer.”

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This isn’t the first time cancer concerns have been raised, as evidenced by a sister’s concern over a sibling’s breast cancer death following IVF:  Can IVF Cause Breast Cancer?

IVF and Fertility Treatment Funding

Meanwhile in Australia there’s a debate about whether the country should continue to help fund people to have children.

In The Conversation, you can find this piece and the comments that resulted: Rethinking funding and priorities in IVF – Should the state pay for people to have babies?

Among the issues explored: is IVF a cost-effective use of taxpayers’ money? And what about for older women?

Surrogacy: Outsourcing Pregnancy

From The Guardian, there’s an eye-opening piece on a reporter’s undercover visit to learn more about India’s surrogacy clinics and egg donation services.

Approximately 12,000 foreigners come to India each year to hire surrogates.

What Julie Bindel discovers is troubling on many different levels. Her report presents a solid case for why she and many others see these fertility procedures as an abuse of human rights.

Fertility Treatment Leads to Higher Risk of Birth Defects

Also in the news, Reuters reported on a JAMA Pediatrics study. It concluded that “women who use in vitro fertilization (IVF) and other reproductive technologies may be more likely to have children with certain birth defects than their peers who conceive the old-fashioned way.”

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My two cents? The common denominator for all these stories is clear: there is nothing risk-free about fertility treatments — for anyone involved.  We can only hope that those who profit from selling reproductive services and fertility treatments do their job raising these risks in a compassionate and thorough way. If you’d like to see who sold the most fertility services in the U.S., the data is crunched here at Forbes. 

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Finally, on the heavy emotional toll and how difficult it can be to help others understand infertility’s complexities … a big thank you to the reader who recently shared this sentiment after reading Silent Sorority:

Silent Sorority helped me beyond measure. I also gave the book to my family. My folks, although clinical psychologists, could not quite grasp the continual pain. They became much better about it. MUCH.”

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5 thoughts on “Fertility Treatment Cancer Links, Rethinking IVF Funding

  1. Lesley Brown, mother of first IVF baby, died of cancer aged only 64. I know that back then fertility drugs were much stronger then nowadays, but still.
    I knew about fertility treatment cancer risk already when going through 10 (!) IVFs. But I was so desperate then that I just didn’t care. What a long way did I walk from then!
    I do worry. I know there isn’t anything I can do now except take good care of me.

    Surrogacy – for me, this is an abuse of human rights.

  2. I have such a complex view on fertility treatments. I do believe insurance should universally cover them. Both because I believe people should have the chance to expand their families but also because there needs to be regulation in the industry. There also needs to be research, both with the effects of these drugs and also to the underlying causes. Unexplained infertility should not exist and we need to have a better understanding of what gives rise to PCOS, POF, endometriosis and RPL. Because I also believe there’s a link to overall health. With one outcome being infertility while others can be heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

  3. I know I’ve said it dozens of times on various blogs, but I’m so glad the fertility industry in NZ is regulated. We can be a little slow to some things, but I know if I’d been in the US I’d have ended up on higher doses and with more cycles, with the same result but higher residual risks of cancer. I don’t think I knew that Lesley Brown had died of cancer so – relatively – young. That’s sad. I’m with Cristy, in that I’d like to see much more research into fertility issues – causes, and treatments and their side effects, of course as well as the whole psychological impacts that you talk about. Even in regulated markets like NZ, it still feels a little like the Wild West.

  4. […] issue about the lack of comprehensive, longitudinal studies tracking those exposed to high doses of hormones and any health risks that may arise over […]

  5. My opinion is that the question has been hidden on purpose: aside from IVF, stem cell research is an avid demander of eggs, and they can target poorer (darker skinned, less educated) women than the IVF industry is looking for. And if the fertility industry generates a huge income through the quantity of individuals using it, stem cell research has higher stakes.

    Concerning Louise Brown, she was conceived on a natural IVF cycle http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4199635/
    and the ovarian stimulations as we know it are much more recent, but it’s likely that Lesley Brown had several other treatments before that.

    The problem is, as Klara points out, that we get so desperate that we simply don’t care. Some about possible health risks, other about ethical problems, abuse of human rights, money, sanity, you name it.

    Taking a step back, what makes me most uncomfortable is that once again it’s a male dominated industry (big bucks are always cashed by men) exploiting women, either through their crave for a child or their desperate need for money.

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