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Small cancer risk from infertility

Wednesday March 13th, 2019

Infertility in women is linked to a very small increased risk of cancer, new research suggests.

It is already known that infertile women have a higher risk of hormone-sensitive cancers, so Dr Gayathree Murugappan of Stanford University School of Medicine, California, USA, and colleagues examined the risk for other types of cancer.

They looked back over figures from 2003 and 2016 on 64,345 infertile women and 3,128,345 non-infertile women.

Once age, race, smoking, obesity, education, and other factors were taken into account, infertile women had an 18% overall increased risk of developing cancer.

In particular, risk of uterine cancer was raised by 78%, ovarian cancer by 64%, lung cancer by 38%, thyroid cancer by 29%, leukaemia by 55%, and liver and gallbladder cancer by 59%.

For those women who went on to have a baby, rates of uterine and ovarian cancer were similar between groups.

The researchers publish their findings today (13 March) in Human Reproduction.

They write: “Absolute risk of cancer was low, average follow up for each individual was limited, and average age at index date was limited.”

However, they report: “Infertile women may have a higher risk of certain cancers in the years after infertility evaluation; continued follow up should be considered after reproductive goals are achieved.”

Dr Murugappan commented: “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.”

Murugappan, G. et al. Risk of cancer in infertile women: analysis of US claims data. Human Reproduction 13 March 2019 doi:10.1093/humrep/dez018

https://academic.oup.com/humrep/article-lookup/doi/10.1093/humrep/dez018

Tags: Cancer | Childbirth and Pregnancy | North America | Women's Health & Gynaecology

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