The study, ‘Association of In Vitro Fertilization With Childhood Cancer in the United States’ by Logan Spector et al. was published in JAMA Pediatrics in April. Dr Anindita Roy, Associate Professor of Paediatric Haematology, MRC Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine, Department of Paediatrics at the University of Oxford, was asked for expert comment by the Science Media Centre.
Professor Roy said:
“This study by Spector et al is one of the largest population based studies investigating the link between in vitro fertilization (IVF) and increased risk of childhood cancers. The study is robust in numbers of cases and controls studied; and the results point towards a small association of IVF with childhood cancers overall, but this did not depend on the mode of IVF or indication for IVF. This result is consistent with similar prospective studies carried out in the UK and in Nordic countries. It is interesting that this association is mainly driven by an increased risk of embryonal cancers, especially liver cancers.
“However, it is important to note that the increased risk of cancers might be due to other confounding factors that differ between IVF and non-IVF children, such as congenital anomalies, certain syndromes, and maternal causes for infertility that can also lead to inherited causes of cancer predisposition such as TP53 gene mutation. The fact that these factors were not evaluated in the study and a relatively short follow up of the children, could have potentially confounded the results. Therefore the causal significance of the association between IVF and childhood cancer cannot be definitively determined by this study, and further follow up studies may be necessary. A better understanding of the molecular mechanisms that drive an increased risk of embryonal cancers is also required. Nonetheless, the results of a large study of this nature is of benefit to fertility specialists, geneticists and paediatric haemato-oncologists when advising couples undergoing IVF treatment or counselling parents of a child born after IVF who develops cancer.”