MEDICAL TECHNOLOGY by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
IVF: the unspoken risks for mothers and babies
, August 2, 2014
IVF procedures put babies and mothers at significantly higher risk than when babies are conceived naturally, according to evidence recently documented in The Family in America, a quarterly journal published by Dr Allan Carlson’s Howard Center for Family, Religion and Society.
The report said that while IVF has helped more than 5 million babies to be born around the world, it is not without risks and complications for both the baby and mother.
A recent article in one of Britain’s respected publications, The Scotsman, cited the first detailed study conducted by the University of Copenhagen, comparing children who had been conceived through IVF to those conceived naturally.
The study was presented at the annual meeting of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology in Munich.
The study showed that babies born from IVF have a statistically significant increased risk of developing psychiatric disorders, such as autism and schizophrenia, both in childhood and adulthood.
The Scotsman said: “Babies conceived through fertility treatments are a third more likely to suffer from psychiatric problems than children born naturally….
“The [University of Copenhagen] study looked at a total of 2,430,826 children, five per cent of whom were born to women with registered fertility problems, born between 1969 and 2006 and whether there were any reported psychiatric disorders.
“It found that 170,240 children were admitted to hospital for a psychiatric disorder, but children born to mothers with fertility problems had a 33 per cent greater overall risk of any defined psychiatric disorders” (The Scotsman, June 30, 2014).
Researchers told The Scotsman the findings were “statistically significant” for schizophrenia and psychoses, affective disorders, anxiety and other neurotic disorders, mental and behavioural syndromes, including eating disorders, autism and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Dr Allan Jensen of the University of Copenhagen said doctors involved in the diagnosis and treatment of women with fertility problems should be aware of “the small, but potentially increased risk of psychiatric disorders among the children born to women with fertility problems”.
The Family in America also drew attention to a large study from Holland which showed that women who had undergone fertility treatment in the period from 1983 to 1995 had a significantly higher incidence of uterine cancer compared to other women.
The evidence that IVF entails seriously elevated cancer risks comes from a study by researchers at the Netherlands Cancer Institute, University Medical Centre Utrecht, Leiden University Medical Centre and Vrije Universiteit Medical Centre.
Analysing 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 that the standardised incidence rate (SIR) of borderline ovarian tumours among women who had undergone IVF was 1.93 times the incidence of such tumours in the general population.
In other words, “women treated with ovarian stimulation for IVF have a two-fold increased risk of ovarian malignancies compared with sub-fertile women not treated with IVF”.
When the researchers shifted their focus from borderline ovarian tumours 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 15 years or more previously. The scholars labelled 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.
The two largest providers of IVF procedures in Australia are Monash IVF, which operates in Victoria, Queensland and Malaysia, and IVF Australia which operates in New South Wales.
An examination of their websites shows that they boast high success rates, particularly for women aged below 35.
However, neither site indicates that there are possible adverse indicators for IVF babies and their mothers, arising from the procedures.
One would hope that the risks are explained to prospective parents before they enter the IVF program.
However, the web site of Monash IVF conveys a different message. In its news section, it reports a collaborative study which showed that “there were no apparent substantial negative long-term health and well-being effects on the young adults when ART technologies were utilised to conceive”.
IVF Australia published a news report which said a U.S. study found there was “no link between fertility drugs and cancer”.