In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) Side Effects and Health Risks

Do fertility treatments and IVF cause breast cancer? What are the possible health risks for a woman receiving in-vitro fertilization (IVF) treatment? A new study suggests that women who started taking fertility drugs when they were 24 years old and went through IVF appear to have a higher risk of developing breast cancer after their IVF treatment. In contrast, women who started their fertility treatment at a later age (40 years old and above) do not seem to face such an increased risk.

Now, before you dump your fertility treatments and IVF, it is important to note that the researchers themselves are not sure whether the higher risk could be attributed to IVF and fertility treatments or whether it could be attributed to something else — such as, for instance, the basic the specific cause of a woman’s infertility.

Says study lead author Louise Stewart of the University of Western Australia in Crawley:

“If, for example, younger women who had IVF were more likely to have a specific cause of infertility, and this was related to an increased risk of breast cancer, then it would appear that IVF was related to breast cancer when in fact it was the type of infertility that was more common in women who had IVF.”

How the study was done. The researchers looked at the records of more than twenty thousand women ( 21,025 to be exact) 20 to 40, who underwent fertility treatment between 1983 and 2002.

Their findings: 1.7 percent of women who underwent fertility treatment without IVF developed breast cancer compared to two percent of those who had both fertility treatment and IVF. The difference of 0.3 percent is not statistically significant according to the researchers.

When the researchers segregated the women into age groups however, they found a significantly higher risk of breast cancer (i.e., 56% higher) among women who began taking fertility drugs at 24 years old and went through IVF compared to women of the same age who took fertility drugs but didn’t have IVF. This higher risk does not appear to exist among women who started fertility and IVF treatment in their 40s.

Again, we should emphasize that this finding is not conclusive and that it is not clear whether the IVF treatment received by the younger women is the culprit for the higher risk of breast cancer they exhibited.

Having said that, in-vitro fertilization does pose some health risks and side effects such as the following noted by the US National Library of Medicine and the UK Human Fertilization and Embryology Society:

Risks during egg retrieval. Adverse reactions to anesthesia, bleeding, infection, and damage to structures surrounding the ovaries during egg retrieval.

Drug reaction to fertility drugs. A woman taking fertility medicines may have bloating, abdominal pain, mood swings, headaches, and other side effects. It may also involve hot flushes, feeling down or irritable, headaches and restlessness.

Ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS) could be a dangerous over-reaction to fertility drugs used to stimulate egg production. OHSS is dangerous because it causes a build up of fluid in the abdomen and chest. Contact your doctor immediately should you exhibit the following OHSS symptoms:

stomach pain, swollen stomach, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, bloating, rapid weight gain (10 pounds within 3-5 days), decreased urination despite drinking plenty of fluids, and shortness of breath

Risk of multiple pregnancies. Check out this list of celebrities with IVF and

Ectopic pregnancy. An ectopic pregnancy can still occur after IVF. Ectopic pregnancy can cause vaginal bleeding, low pregnancy hormone levels and miscarriage.

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