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Are There Long Term Health Concerns With IVF?

The first baby conceived by in vitro fertilization (IVF), Louise Joy Brown turned 32 last month. Since then, millions of babies were born worldwide by this procedure. Although IVF is commonplace nowadays, there are still some people who think that IVF babies are “different.” A friend of mine gets annoyed when people ask her whether her twins were conceived/delivered normally/naturally (vs. IVF and C-section). She feels these questions imply that IVF babies are not natural or normal. I sympathize with her as I am a mom of twins myself and sometimes encounter similar annoying questions.

In fact, IVF babies and children are often the focus of research studies, with the aim of finding out whether assisted reproduction has some the long-term effects on health outcomes.

What Studies on IVF Children show

Swedish researchers followed up more than 2.4 million babies born in Sweden between 1992 to 2005 for 19 years. About 27,000 of these babies were conceived via IVF. Cancer data in these children showed a 42% increased cancer risk, especially brain cancer and leukemia among IVF children compared to those conceived the conventional way.

Now, before we jump into conclusions about the safety of the IVF procedure, let us hear what the researchers have to say. From their analysis, the authors tell us:

  • Although there is an increased risk, cancer among IVF children is still rare. Absolute risk is still pretty low at <1% per child. Of the 27,000 IVF babies studied, 53 developed cancer within 19 years. In the same number of non-IVF babies, 38 are expected to develop cancer.
  • The elevated risk is not due to the mode of conception but probably due to genetic or health problems of the parents that made them parents unable to naturally conceive in the first place.
  • Premature delivery is much more common among IVF babies, and prematurity comes with a lot of health issues.
  • The Swedish population is less diverse compared to those of other countries, e.g. US, UK where IVF is commonly performed. Thus, this increased cancer risk observed may not be true in other countries.

My friend and I had a lengthy discussion about this and in her opinion, it is not fair to use IVF children as study subjects and comparing IVF children to the “rest” is tantamount to discrimination. In my opinion, it is for the benefit of IVF kids that science is taking an interest in them as research subjects. What do you think?


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