One less thing to worry about, moms and moms-to-be: Undergoing in vitro fertilization won’t give you breast cancer.
Many women have worried that pumping themselves with extra hormones before IVF treatments to stimulate their ovaries has put them at risk for the Big C. That’s because high estrogen and progesterone levels have been linked to the growth of certain breast cancers.
But a new study of more than 25,000 women in the Netherlands published in JAMA revealed that the moms-to-be who underwent IVF were no more likely to get breast cancer after 21 years than both the general population and women treated for infertility who didn’t do IVF at the same time. In fact, the researchers found breast cancer risk was significantly lower for women who did seven or more IVF cycles.
“This is happy news — making life does not cause cancer! — and for someone that has to undergo IVF, this is at least one less thing to be concerned about,” said Erika, 36, from Manhattan, who took hormones to harvest and freeze her eggs for future IVF treatment last year.
Kristin, a 35-year-old from the upper East Side, also underwent the same procedure last year because she believed her risk of getting cancer was minimal even then.
“The data on possibly getting cancer was inconclusive, but my decreasing fertility was a fact, so I went with the fact,” she told The Daily News.
But after reading about the JAMA study this week, she felt “even more at peace with my decision.”
Fertility doctors who have long tried reassuring jittery patients that IVF’s risks don’t include cancer praised the report for putting women’s minds at ease. Dr. Zitao Liu from the New Hope Fertility Center at Columbus Circle has had six IVF patients come discuss their cancer risks since the study came out who now “certainly are more optimistic.”
Dr. Liu added that, “We’ve known for a long time that there was no correlation between IVF treatment and breast or ovarian cancer. The JAMA study is good because it is a published case to reinforce this idea, and we have many patients who are comforted knowing about the study.”
So where did the idea that IVF causes cancer come from if the scientific community has been so sure there was nothing to worry about? Dr. Alan Copperman, the director of Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility at Mount Sinai, suggested that fertility treatments decades ago were not as streamlined and successful as they are now. Most women today take hormones for a week or so before their mature eggs are retrieved, whereas once each IVF cycle took a couple of months and used a variety of hormones.
“Maybe years ago, when women would do 12 cycles of hyperstimulation [of the ovaries] ... if someone was taking a whole year of fertility drugs with a really high estrogen level and not getting pregnant ... then you could theorize all that estrogen could have damaging effects,” he said. “There was probably some rationale [for the cancer fears] years ago, but now there’s targeted treatment, and your estrogen levels are only up for a brief time.”
He’s also seen relieved patients come through his doors since the JAMA report. “Word spreads quickly, and I have had several patients come in and say, ‘Wow, that was reassuring, because I had an aunt who had cancer and I was really worried about that,’” he said. “I think this is fantastic news. A lot of patients don't even attempt IVF, patients that would really be benefitted, because of some unfounded fears.”
But this still isn’t license to skip your mammogram, mamas — whether you have done IVF or not.
“We have never made any changes in our recommendations for screening based on a patient’s history of IVF ... but we do know that mammograms save lives,” said Dr. Emily Sonnenblick, radiologist at the Dubin Breast Center in Mount Sinai Hospital. “I would encourage women to just follow the standard, established guidelines, starting screenings at age 40, regardless of whether you’ve had IVF or not.”