New research has suggested that children born following IVF may be more likely to develop retinoblastoma, a rare form of childhood eye cancer. The research follows calls from scientists for long-term health monitoring of IVF children after another study linked IVF to Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome (BWS) last week. BWS is a rare genetic condition characterised by overgrowth of various body tissues and an increased risk of particular cancers.
Research into the eye cancer began when doctors in the Netherlands diagnosed the disease in five IVF children within 15 months. The normal rate of the disease is one in 17,000 children. The researchers, who have published their findings in The Lancet medical journal, compared the incidence of the disease in IVF children with that in the general population. Their findings suggest that IVF children may be five to seven times more likely to contract the disease.
Annette Moll, leader of the research team, speculates that drugs used to stimulate the ovaries of women undergoing IVF might be a possible cause of the cancer. Other possibilities include a genetic link between the cancer and infertility, or genetic problems introduced during the IVF process itself. It may also be possible, points out New Scientist, that there is no actual link to IVF but the fact that IVF children are more closely scrutinised may have led to the discovery.
The European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE) has warned that the new research should be treated with caution, saying that larger studies of IVF children have shown no increased risk of cancer.