Infertility linked to cancer risk

Infertile women may have a higher risk of certain cancers, according to a U.S study.

The researchers compared 64,345 infertile women identified through infertility diagnosis, testing or treatment with more than 3.1 million non-infertile women who sought routine gynecologic care during the study period, an average of nearly 4 years.

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After taking into account factors that could affect the results such as smoking, obesity and age researchers found that infertile women had an overall 18% higher risk of developing cancer. However, the absolute risks were 2% in infertile women compared to 1.7% in fertile women.

Breast cancer was the most common cancer in both infertile and non-infertile women, however the risk of breast cancer was similar between the groups. The researchers found a slightly higher risk of hormone-driven cancers, including ovarian and uterine cancer, among the infertile women. They also found a slightly higher risk of cancers of the lung, thyroid, liver and gallbladder and leukaemia among the infertile women. 

The risk of uterine cancer was similar between groups in an analysis that excluded women with polycystic ovary syndrome and endometriosis, which have been linked to cancer risk previously.

These results mean that one in 49 infertile women would develop cancer during the follow-up period compared to one in 59 women who were non-infertile.

Many cancers are diagnosed in older people and one of the limitations of this research is the age of the women who were in their 30s. The researchers emphasise the results should be interpreted with caution - the study is finding an association only (not causation), and overall the risk is still very low.

Link to the research article here

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