The most incisive guide to issues facing the American family today . . . An invaluable resource for anyone wishing to stay on the cutting edge of research on family trends.

-W. Bradford Wilcox
Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Virginia 

IVF: A Dangerous Deviation from Nature?


Bryce J. Christensen and Robert W. Patterson


With in-vitro fertilization (IVF), some infertile couples have seen a way to have children that nature has apparently denied them. Using this  technology, some single women and lesbian couples have seen a way to have children without marital ties to a man. Regardless of motives, women resorting to IVF may be running unrecognized cancer risks.

The evidence that IVF entails seriously elevated cancer risks comes from a study by researchers at the Netherlands Cancer Institute, University Medical Center Utrecht, Leiden University Medical Center, and Vrije Universiteit Medical Center. Analyzing data collected from 19,146 women who received IVF treatment in the Netherlands between 1983 and 1995, the researchers identified a disturbingly high incidence of ovarian cancer among these women.

More particularly, the researchers calculated a standardized incidence rate (SIR) of borderline ovarian tumors of 1.93 among women who had undergone IVF with the incidence of such tumors in the general population. In other words, “women treated with ovarian stimulation for IVF have a 2-fold increased risk of ovarian malignancies compared with subfertile women not treated with IVF.” When the researchers shifted their focus from borderline ovarian tumors to invasive ovarian cancer, they found that women who had undergone IVF did not manifest any statistically significant elevation of risk—in the short run. However, when the researchers examined the longer-term pattern, they discovered that the SIR for invasive ovarian cancer came in at 3.54 for women who had undergone IVF fifteen years or more previously. The scholars labeled this finding “concerning.”

These findings were not entirely unexpected, since medical authorities had previously expressed “concerns . . . that ovarian stimulation and multiple ovarian punctures as used in IVF may increase the risk of ovarian malignancies.” But at a time “when 1.2–2.3% of children born in the Western world are conceived by assisted reproductive technologies,” this new study should raise urgent questions about the safety of such technologies.

(F. E. van Leeuwen et al., “Risk of Borderline and Invasive Ovarian Tumours after Ovarian Stimulation for In Vitro Fertilization in a Large Dutch Cohort,” Human Reproduction 26 [October 26, 2011]: 3456–65.)

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