Greater mental health risks for IVF babies

Nicole M. King
18 July 2014
Reproduced with Permission
Family Edge

The News Story - IVF babies face greater risk of mental illness

While IVF has helped more than 5,000,000 babies to be born, it is not without risks and complications for both the baby and mother. A recent study has shown that babies born from IVF have an increased risk of developing psychiatric disorders, such as autism and schizophrenia, both in childhood and adulthood.

A recent article in The Scotsman summarizes the issue. It is not clear that the increased risks of mental illness in IVF babies are a result of the IVF treatment itself. Rather, "The results suggest the risk was related to the mother's genes rather than any fertility treatments such as IVF, warning that genes which could cause psychiatric diseases may be more common in women with fertility problems." Nonetheless, the researchers report that "the study could not establish if the increased risk was associated to the mother's infertility - whether genetic or biological - or to the treatment."

While recent research has also suggested that IVF is harmful for mothers - as it increases their risk of ovarian cancer and tumors - we now have additional reason to be concerned.

The New Research - IVF: a dangerous deviation from nature?

With in-vitro fertilization (IVF), some infertile couples have seen a way to have children that nature has apparently denied them. Using this technology, some single women and lesbian couples have seen a way to have children without marital ties to a man. Regardless of motives, women resorting to IVF may be running unrecognized cancer risks.

The evidence that IVF entails seriously elevated cancer risks comes from a study by researchers at the Netherlands Cancer Institute, University Medical Center Utrecht, Leiden University Medical Center, and Vrije Universiteit Medical Center. Analyzing 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 a standardized incidence rate (SIR) of borderline ovarian tumors of 1.93 among women who had undergone IVF with the incidence of such tumors in the general population. In other words, "women treated with ovarian stimulation for IVF have a 2-fold increased risk of ovarian malignancies compared with subfertile women not treated with IVF." When the researchers shifted their focus from borderline ovarian tumors 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 fifteen years or more previously. The scholars labeled 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.