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Link Between IVF in Young Women and Breast Cancer

a blog by Claire, May 30, 2012

A new study published in the Fertility and Sterility has found an age-related connection between in vitro fertilization (IVF) and breast cancer; however, the study demonstrated that there was no increase in overall risk. The large population-based study out of Western Australia found that the effect of IVF on breast cancer rates differed depending on the age of the women at the time treatment was commenced. In younger, but not older, patients there was an association between having IVF and an increased risk of breast cancer.

Researchers compared rates of breast cancer between women whose infertility treatment included IVF and women who received other infertility treatments. They used data from 21,025 women undergoing investigation or treatment for infertility in Western Australia from 1983 to 2002. The patients were between the ages of 24 and 44 at their first admission, and the researchers excluded from the study women with prior breast cancer diagnoses and those who developed breast cancer within six months of their first infertility admission.

The study found that women who first underwent IVF at age 24 were about one-and-a-half times more likely to develop breast cancer than women of the same age who received a non-IVF infertility treatment. Women who underwent IVF at age 40 had no increased risk.

The study also confirmed a link between breast cancer risk and a woman having her first baby at an older age. The study authors wrote in their discussion:

    The results of this study will be reassuring to women who commence IVF treatment in their thirties and forties, because for these women, there appears to be no direct association between IVF treatment and breast cancer risk. Nevertheless, women should be aware that delivering their first child late in reproductive life, whether assisted by IVF or not, is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer. For younger women there is some cause for concern, because it appears that they may face an increased risk of breast cancer after IVF treatment.

The link between IVF and breast cancer in young women may be because of the connection between higher estrogen rates and breast cancer. rement therapy in- According to the study authors, in an IVF cycle, there is a significant elevation in circulating estrogen, with estrogen levels peaking at 4,000 pg/m, compared with 300 pg/mL during a normal menstrual cycle.

“The development of breast cancer is linked to estrogen exposure and the longer one is exposed, the greater the risk," says Linda Giudice, M.D., PhD, president-elect of American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM). "In an IVF cycle, there is a short, but significant elevation in circulating estrogen, and whether this is linked to the observations found in this study is not clear at this time. Women should be reassured that, overall, IVF was not associated with an increased risk for development of breast cancer. However, as noted in the study, women in their 30s and 40s still need to be aware of the increased risk of breast cancer associated with delivering one’s first child at this stage of reproductive life. For younger women, there is the possibility that IVF is associated with increased risk, but more research is needed to confirm this.”


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