What this new research—more than 20 years in the making—means for you.
Women who are struggling with infertility and undergoing IVF treatments usually have a lot on their minds, and for some time, one of those worries was an increased risk of breast cancer. After all, IVF treatment involves sharply increasing a patient's levels of estrogen and progesterone, two hormones that are known to feed certain types of breast cancer.
But a new study of more than 25,000 Dutch women published in the Journal of the American Medical Association did not find a link between IVF and breast cancer. The research has been a long time coming. In fact, the women in the study all went through IVF treatments between 1980 and 1995 and have since been monitored for a median period of 21 years. Researchers took other factors—like family history, age at the time of first birth, number of IVF rounds and number of births overall—into account.
“The main takeaway is there’s no evidence of an increased subsequent risk of breast cancer, at least in the first couple decades,” Saundra S. Buys, MD, an oncologist at the Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah, told The New York Times. Dr. Buys was not involved with the study.
As reassuring as this news is, it's important to remember that there are still some questions. Mia Gaudet, PhD, the strategic director of breast cancer research at the American Cancer Society told The New York Times that the “significant amount of evidence that there is no link between IVF and breast cancer" is worth noting—but with that being said, she also warned: "It's still not conclusive."
“We just may not be seeing breast cancer in these women yet,” Dr. Gaudet said. Since only 14% of the women in the original study are 60 or older, the study falls short in assessing the risk of breast cancer later in life.
Also, it's important to note that the women in the study received their IVF treatments between 1980 and 1995, and the kinds of drugs used for IVF have changed since then. To make up for this fact, researchers are now monitoring an additional 10,000 women who received more recent IVF treatments and 5,000 others who received other fertility treatments.
If you're concerned about your own breast cancer risk, speak with your doctor about your risk factors. The ACOG currently recommends the following protocol for screening:
- Screening mammography every year for women aged 40 or older
- Clinical Breast Exam every year for women aged 19 or older
- Breast Self-Awareness (self exams) has the potential to detect palpable breast cancer and can be recommended