The study looked at data from around 106,000 births from IVF and other assisted conceptions in Britain over an 18 year period (1992-2008), and matched this data to information on cancer diagnoses as they grew up – until they were 15***.
Overall cancer rates were strikingly similar in IVF babies and all other children – 108 cancers were diagnosed compared to an expected 110****.
The researchers found that IVF was not linked to any increased risk of the commonest childhood cancers such as leukaemia, neuroblastoma, retinoblastoma, central nervous system tumours, or renal or germ cell tumours.
The researchers found a slight increase in the risk of two rarer types of childhood tumours – hepatic tumours and bone tumours – mainly a type called rhabdomysarcoma. There were only a small number of these cases. The authors were unable to confirm whether this increased risk was due to chance, being conceived through IVF or other factors such as low birth weight or parental infertility.
Each year around two per cent of babies born in the UK are conceived by IVF******.
Dr Alastair Sutcliffe, study author at University College London Hospital and honorary consultant paediatrician at Great Ormond Street Hospital, said: “Our findings suggest that children conceived with IVF techniques have no greater risk of childhood cancer overall than naturally conceived children.
“These results are reassuring for parents who’ve had children in this way or are thinking about using it to conceive. Up until now it’s been difficult to study the link between using IVF techniques and childhood cancer – which is thankfully a relatively rare event. Our study is the largest of its kind to date to look at this link and bigger than all previous studies combined. We will be revisiting the data set in five years time to see if this good news can be further verified as the child population gets older.”
Professor Peter Johnson, Cancer Research UK’s chief clinician, said: “A child’s cancer diagnosis is devastating news to any parent. But we’re pleased that this study has found no link between conception using IVF and increased overall cancer risk to children.
“Although survival rates are improving, there’s still some way to go to make sure that all children survive, as well as making treatments kinder and reducing their long-term side effects. These areas are priorities for Cancer Research UK, and we will continue to support the very best children’s cancer research – work that is entirely funded by the generosity of the public – to help save more children’s lives.”
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Williams, C et al. Cancer Risk among Children Born after Assisted Conception (2013) The New England Journal of Medicine, doi:10.1056/NEJMoa1301675.
Notes to editors
*IVF, intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) and other micromanipulation
** The study was funded by Cancer Research UK and is a collaboration between researchers at the Institute of Child Health, University College London and the Childhood Cancer Research Group at the University of Oxford.
*** Data from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority and the National Registry of Childhood Tumours.
****Expected number of cancers in the assisted conception group was calculated by assuming their risk was the same as that of the general population of Britain of the same age during the same period.
***** In 2010, 2% of all babies born in the UK were conceived as a result of IVF treatment (http://www.hfea.gov.uk/104.html)