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expert reaction to new study on cancer and IVF

Research in the New England Journal of Medicine found no extra cancer risk among children born after assisted conception.


Dr Allan Pacey, Senior Lecturer in Andrology at the University of Sheffield and Chairman of the British Fertility Society, said:

“Couples undergoing IVF are understandably concerned about the health of any children born following the procedure. They often ask about the risks, but to date the follow-up studies conducted have often been too small to be certain and are sometimes contradictory. This study has a convincing level of power to reassure us that the risk of childhood cancer in children born following IVF is essentially no different from that seen in other children conceived naturally. This is excellent news and I hope that patients, professionals and those born through IVF find it reassuring. We need to make sure this information is publicised as widely as possible.”


Mr Stuart Lavery, Consultant Gynaecologist, Director IVF Hammersmith, Hammersmith Hospital, said:

“This is a very important piece of research that will be welcomed both by parents of children conceived through fertility treatment and also by IVF clinicians and scientists.  The authors present convincing data from a large population cohort over a significant length of time that children conceived through IVF have no increased risk of developing cancer compared with children conceived naturally. Whilst the efficacy of IVF is well established, this work adds to the evidence that IVF is also a safe technique.”


Professor Alison Murdoch, Department of Reproductive Medicine, Newcastle University, said:

“This important large study shows why it is necessary to collect good data and make it accessible.  It has been frustrating that is has taken so long to get the relevant permissions to analyse the databases.  At last we can give further reassurance for parents that the cancer risk for their children is the same as for those conceived without IVF.”


Professor Nick Macklon, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Division of Human Development and Health, University of Southampton, said:

“I think this a good and hugely reassuring study which deserves media attention. It is the largest yet published, allowing conclusions to be made with some certainty, and essentially confirms that being born by ART does not increase the risk of childhood cancers. Those few rare cancers that emerged as being slightly increased in incidence could simply reflect statistical chance effects, and even if true, the association could equally be with the underlying infertility as well as the IVF treatment. As the authors state, they have been unable to control for the possible effect of parental subfertility as being the causative factor rather than IVF per se.

“What this study also highlights is the need for a national perinatal database in order to aid linkage to databases such as that of the HFEA. Only then can we really pick apart which factors may underlie any developmental changes observed in children born after ART. Such databases exist in other European countries, and until we are similarly organised in the UK, the strengths of our other large databases, such as that of the HFEA, will not be fully utilized.”


Professor Peter Braude , Division of Women’s Health , King’s College London, said:

“This is a strongly reassuring safety study which one hopes will be only the first of many. It demonstrates the crucial importance of the requested revisions to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act in 2008 that now allow the proper use of the vast amount of data statutorily collected by the HFEA  about each and every IVF cycle for the benefit of those who had provided it and for future patients.”


‘Cancer risk among children born after assisted conception’ by Carrie L. Williams et al. published in the New England Journal of Medicine on Wednesday 6 November 2013.

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