Ever since fertility drugs were used to enhance egg production for IVF there have been rumors that they can increase the risk of ovarian cancer. The poster person for this concept was Gilda Radner who suffered from infertility and then tragically was discovered to have advanced ovarian cancer. Many blamed the fertility drugs she used in attempts to conceive with IVF. Then it was discovered, partially through research from the Gilda Radner Institute, that she carried the BRCA gene which is probably responsible for both her unresolved infertility and ovarian cancer.
And now a new study backs that up: fertility drugs do not increase a woman’s risk of ovarian cancer. It did find that infertility itself is associated with an increased risk of ovarian cancer. The researchers examined data from more than 58,000 women in Denmark who had infertility treatments (ART, or assisted reproduction technology) between 1994 and 2015. The investigators then compared them with more than 549,000 women who did not undergo ART.
“We found that the higher risk of ovarian cancer among women having assisted reproduction treatment was only present among those with diagnosed female infertility,” said study author Anja Pinborg. She is a professor in the fertility department at Rigshospitalet, Copenhagen University Hospital, in Denmark. “And in a general population we saw that ovarian stimulation does not seem to increase the risk of ovarian cancer,” she added.
The findings were presented at a meeting of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology, in Barcelona. The study addresses long-held concerns that the fertility drugs could be a risk factor for ovarian cancer. In a meeting news release, Pinborg said the results are “reassuring,” and added that she “would advise infertile women contemplating ART treatment to go ahead. Ovarian stimulation itself is not introducing any excess risk of ovarian cancer.”
So for many like Gilda Radner, it may be a genetic predisposition to both. Besides BRCA1 and BRCA2 many new genes associated with female cancer are being discovered allowing women to undergo more robust surveillance if they are discovered to carry a cancer gene.