IVF babies at higher risk of developing cancer

In vitro fertilisation is becoming an increasingly popular procedure in the UAE

Babies conceived using in vitro fertilisation (IVF) have a higher risk of developing cancer than those who were conceived naturally, new research shows.

According to a study conducted in Sweden, despite the risk of developing cancer later in life being quite low, the risk was increased by 42 per cent for children conceived with IVF.

“We found a roughly 50 per cent increased risk for cancer in IVF children, which means that if the risk without IVF is two per 1,000, it increases to three per 1,000 after IVF,” explained study author Dr Bengt Kallen, a professor emeritus in embryology at the Tornblad Institute at the University of Lund in Sweden.

IVF is an assisted reproduction technology, where doctors can create human embryos by using eggs harvested from the prospective mother and sperm given by the prospective father, and then implant them into the mother’s uterus.

It is becoming an increasingly popular procedure in the UAE, with fertility clinic Conceive UAE reporting that 15 per cent of couples are unable to achieve a pregnancy for a variety of reasons.

And it doesn’t come cheap. According to figures obtained from the Fertility Gynaecology and Obstetrics Centre in Sharjah, the process costs up to Dh18,000 per single IVF procedure.

Babies born using this technology are known to have an increased risk of birth defects and of birth complications, such as pre-term birth. And previous research has linked IVF babies to an increased risk of cancer.

In this latest study, using the Swedish Medical Birth Register, researchers gathered information on almost 27,000 children who were born using IVF in the country from 1982 through 2005.

They found that 53 children born from IVF had developed cancer compared to the expected rate of 38 cases of cancer in non-IVF children. Cancers of the blood, such as acute lymphoblastic leukemia, were the most common, affecting 18 children.

The next most common were cancers of the eye or central nervous system, affecting 17 children.

Interestingly, other factors appeared to influence the risk of cancer, such as babies born before 37 weeks’ gestation and those with a low birth weight, respiratory problems or a low Apgar score (a test given at birth to assess a newborn's health).

According to statistics by the Ministry of Health, 12,000 babies are born in Dubai annually, and more than 10 per cent of all births in 2009 were premature.

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