A new study published in the journal Human Reproduction indicates that women who struggle with infertility may be at higher risk having cancer later in life. The study found that compared to women without fertility problems, women with infertility are 18 percent more likely to develop cancer, particularly uterine and ovarian cancers.
Researchers from Stanford University tracked 64,000 women who were struggling with infertility over four years. They compared the medical records of those women to the medical records of 3.1 million fertile women. During that time, two percent of infertile women were diagnosed with cancer compared to 1.7 percent of women without fertility problems.
Dr. Gayathree Murugappan, lead author of the study, stated, “We do not know the causes of the increase in cancer that we found in this study – whether it might be the infertility itself, the causes of the infertility, or the infertility treatment. We can only show there is an association between them. In the future, we hope that we will be able to understand why infertile women are at higher risk of cancer, for example, by identifying a common, underlying mechanism that can cause cancer and infertility.”
The study authors also pointed out that the infertile women may be at greater risk of developing cancer regardless of whether or not they underwent fertility treatment. And, those infertile women who did manage to conceive and have a child saw their risk of developing cancer fall to around the same level as fertile women.
Lastly, the authors stressed that an infertile woman’s increased risk is still very small. One of the lead authors, Dr. Michael Eisenberg, stated, “The low overall incidence of cancer among these women means that one in 49 infertile women would develop cancer during the follow-up period compared to one in 59 women in the women who were not infertile.”