IVF drugs may reduce breast cancer risk

Fertility treatment could help to prevent breast cancer, according to research presented yesterday at the annual conference in Philadelphia of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.

Fertility treatment could help to prevent breast cancer, according to research presented yesterday at the annual conference in Philadelphia of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.

Infertile women who were given drugs to boost their chances of having a child had a 26 per cent reduced risk of the disease compared to infertile women who did not undergo treatment, the research found. The finding scotched fears that the strong doses of hormones in fertility drugs might increase the risk of breast cancer. Some pro-life groups have claimed that fertility treatments trigger the disease and should not be used.

Scientists from the University of Ottawa looked at almost 2,000 medical trials involving 20,000 women. They found no difference in breast cancer rates between infertile women who had received assisted reproductive technology treatment and women with no fertility problems.

The technology involves giving strong drugs containing hormones such as oestrogen to boost egg production and the likelihood of conception.

Oestrogen has been linked to the development of breast cancer. But infertile women who had been treated for their problems had a 26 per cent lower cancer rate than those who had not. It is well known that having children reduces a woman's risk of breast cancer, but this is the first study to suggest that fertility treatment for those who find it difficult to conceive may also help to lower the incidence.

Scientists believe that other chemicals contained in the fertility drugs may be responsible for the reduction. The researchers said the results were "new and reassuring" and called for more such studies.

A spokeswoman for the charity Cancer Research said: "A transient increase in breast cancer risk in the first year after IVF has been previously reported by a large Australian study, although incidence in the longer follow-up period was no greater than expected. These new results showing no link between IVF and breast cancer will provide reassurance to infertile women considering the treatment."

Concern about a possible link between breast cancer and fertility treatment was raised last year by Sarah Parkinson, the partner of the comedian Paul Merton, shortly before her death from the disease.

Cancer charities say the fear is shared by many women undergoing IVF, despite the fact that there is no conclusive evidence of a link. Specialists point out that although women are exposed to high levels of hormones containing oestrogen during fertility treatment, these levels are no higher than would be produced naturally during pregnancy.

Peter Brinsden, medical director of Bourn Hall Clinic in Cambridge, said he had used ovary-stimulating drugs without evidence of risk for more than 30 years. Laura Riley, director of Progress, the reproductive research charity, described the latest finding as "very reassuring" and said it would "put many women's minds at rest who are contemplating fertility treatment or have had it".

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