Press release: Childhood Cancer 2012 - fertility treatments

24 April 2012

24th April 2012

Childhood Cancer 2012: International Scientific Conference on Early Exposures and Childhood Cancer

Some fertility treatments may increase risk of childhood leukaemiaChildren born to mothers who had trouble getting pregnant for more than a year or who were given fertility drugs to stimulate the ovaries may be more likely to develop leukaemia, new research suggests (1).

The study, to be presented for the first time today (Tuesday 24th April) at the Childhood Cancer 2012 conference in London, found that the use of ovarian stimulating drugs was associated with a 2.6 fold increase in risk of developing the most common form of childhood leukaemia (acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, or ALL), and a 2.3 fold increase in risk of developing the rarer acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) (2).

Children who were conceived naturally after their mothers had struggled to get pregnant for more than a year were 50% more likely to develop ALL. But the study did not find an increased risk of acute leukaemia for the children born to mothers who received in vitro fertilization (IVF) or artificial insemination (3).

Dr Jéremié Rudant, of the Center for Research in Epidemiology and Population Health, INSERM, Villejuif, France, who led the research, will tell the London conference:

‘It has always been hypothesized that assisted reproductive technologies (ART) may be involved in the onset of childhood cancer as they involve repeated treatment at the time of conception and/or manipulation of the sperm and egg. And it is now established that a majority of acute leukaemia (AL) have a pre-natal origin’.

One in six couples worldwide experience some form of fertility problem at least once during their reproductive lifespan. About 44,000 cycles of assisted reproduction technology (ART) are given in the UK each year and it is estimated that about 250,000 babies are born worldwide every year as a result of such treatment (4).

The use of fertility treatment is increasing worldwide, and in the UK, where 1.8% of all live births were after ART in 2007, compared with 0.5% in 1992. Potential health threats to ART-conceived children are thus increasingly important (5).

The study involved 2,445 French children and their mothers, 1681 children who had not been diagnosed with acute leukaemia and 764 children with a positive diagnosis.  The children both with and without the disease were age and gender matched and their development was compared over a two-year period. Information was collected on fertility problems, such as a delay of more than a year in falling pregnant (subfertility), the need to seek fertility treatment, and specific fertility treatments such as IVF, artificial insemination and the use of ovarian stimulating drugs (6).

‘Previous studies have suggested a link between infertility treatments and acute childhood leukaemia, but there haven’t been many studies, most of them have been small, and they focused either on IVF or hormonal treatment. Our study was much larger and it’s the first time that a specific increased risk linked to fertility drugs has been found,’ Dr Rudant will explain.

‘The findings indicate that more research is now needed to investigate more closely the link between specific types of fertility drugs and what role the underlying causes of infertility may play in the potential development of childhood leukaemia.’

Media Enquiries and Notes to Editors

Oral presentation, Assembly Hall, 1700hrs BST Tuesday 24th April

From 0830hrs BST Tuesday 24 April to 1700hrs BST Thursday 26 April
Childhood Cancer 2012 press office (Bishops Robing Room):
Tel: +44 (0) 20 7390 1578

About Children with Cancer UKChildhood Cancer 2012 is an international scientific conference on early exposures hosted by leading children's charity Children with Cancer UK.

Children with Cancer UK (formerly CHILDREN with LEUKAEMIA) is the leading national children’s charity dedicated to the fight against childhood cancer.

The charity funds life-saving research into the causes, prevention and treatment of childhood cancers and works to protect young lives through essential welfare and campaigning programmes.

Over the past 24 years, what started as a small memorial charity has become a major force in paediatric oncology helping to drive childhood leukaemia survival rates up to over 80%.

To date Children with Cancer UK has raised almost £140 million pounds for the research and treatment of childhood cancer.  The charity receives no government funding and relies entirely on voluntary donations.

References(1)    ‘Use of fertility treatments and childhood acute leukaemia: the Escale Study (SFCE)’ Rudant et al, abstract to be presented to Childhood Cancer 2012 conference in London 24-26th April.
(2)    The research study was a national registry-based case-control study called ESCALE, which was carried out in France from 2003-2004. 764 acute leukaemia, including 648 ALL and 101 AML and 1681 controls were included in the study. Mothers recruited were asked if they had difficulty to get pregnant for the child monitored, defined by a delay of more than a year to conceive the child and/or the need to consult a doctor and/or the necessity to use fertility treatments. Mothers were also asked for the type of fertility treatment, if any: in vitro fertilization (IVF), artificial insemination or ovarian stimulation.
ALL was significantly associated with the use of fertility treatments for the index pregnancy (OR=1.9 [1.3-2.8]), (or 90%) and in particular with a treatment by ovarian stimulation only (without in vitro fertilization or artificial insemination) (OR=2.6 [1.6-4.3]) (or 2.6 times). On the contrary, ALL was not associated with in vitro fertilization (OR=1.0 [0.4-2.3]) or artificial insemination (OR=1.3 [0.5-3.9]). A positive association was also observed for the difficulty to get pregnant without the necessity to take fertility treatment (OR=1.5 [1.0-2.1]) (or 50%). AML were also positively associated with the use of fertility treatment (OR=1.4 [0.6-3.3]) and the ovarian stimulation (OR=2.3 [0.9-6.1]).
(3)    ibid
(5)    ‘Are children born after assisted reproduction at higher risk than children born after spontaneous conception’ Dr Carrie Williams et al poster presentation abstract to be presented to Childhood Cancer 2012 conference in London 24-26th April.
(6)    ESALE study as in (1) and (2) above.

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