Mr Tony Rutherford, Chair of the British Fertility Society, said:

This research shows the importance of long term follow up of patients who have fertility treatments as the impact of these therapies may not be fully appreciated or known for a considerable period of time afterwards.  The research suggests that the risk of borderline ovarian tumours is increased compared to other infertile women who do not have IVF.  However, it is essential that this increased risk is kept in perspective, as the overall risk still remains extremely small.  The cumulative life time risk for borderline ovarian cancer up to the age of 55 was 0.45% in the general population compared to 0.71% in those having IVF treatment.  The data in this study are not powerful enough to show a link between the number of cycles and this increased risk.  In the UK the HFEA has a comprehensive database of all women undergoing IVF procedures since 1991, over 300,000 treatment cycles.  Up until a recent change in legislation it was not possible due to restrictive confidentiality covenants to link the HFEA database with the UK cancer register.  However, researchers are now looking at such linkage studies which should be able to demonstrate the true risk of developing cancer after IVF treatment in the UK population.

“Screening for ovarian malignancy using ultrasound and serum markers has been shown to be effective in picking up ovarian cancer at an early stage, although there is no evidence to date that screening will actually save lives.  Moreover, screening increases the risk of surgery and operative intervention when it may not be required. 

“Clearly there needs to be a balanced approach.  Clinicians should ensure that all patients are made aware of the potential risks of ovarian stimulation and until further evidence is available, the pros and cons of future ovarian screening, to allow them to make a fully informed choice about their treatment options.”

Notes for editors

The full paper this statement is in response to can be found at: van Leeuwen et al. Human Reproduction(2011), doi:10.1093/humrep/der322