As if parents using in vitro fertilization didn't have enough to worry about, a new study suggests children conceived through IVF might have a slightly increased risk of developing blood cancer.
Researchers studied more than 1.6 million children in Norway, about 25,800 of whom were conceived through different assisted reproductive technology procedures. They found that children born via IVF had a 67 percent increased risk of leukemia and a more than tripled risk of Hodgkin's lymphoma compared to children conceived naturally.
While that number certainly sounds scary, lead author Dr. Marte Myhre Reigstad says parents shouldn't go into panic mode, as the risk of childhood cancer is still very small. "For example, in Norway, the risk of being diagnosed with leukemia within the first 10 years of life is 0.5 in 1,000," she said. "A risk increase of such magnitude as found in our study would amount to a risk of 0.8 in 1,000. So for children conceived by assisted reproductive technology, there is still only a very small chance of developing cancer."
Susan Amirian, an assistant professor with the Baylor College of Medicine's Duncan Cancer Center in Houston, called the results "borderline statistically significant," as only 17 cases of leukemia and three cases of Hodgkin's lymphoma were reported among the IVF kids in the sample.
"We need to be extra cautious interpreting that number," she said. "And we need a lot more studies that confirm that association before we can say there's a true relationship there." She added that there are a number of other possible reasons why IVF kids might be at higher risk for some cancers, including the fact that mothers who use IVF to conceive often do so later in life. Parental genetics might also play a factor, she said, because whatever contributed to the parents' infertility might also increase their children's cancer risk.
Still, Reigstad doesn't think the finidng should dissuade couples from being treated with IVF. "But medical researchers and care providers must keep these findings in mind," she added. "And we must keep observing these children as they grow older."