Study: Children conceived from frozen embryos at increased risk for certain cancers

Parenthood comes with many challenges. (Everyone struggles with the car seat, right?) And there will be the usual bumps and bruises along life’s highway. But cancer – from how you chose to conceive? Yes, according to results from a recent Danish study.


But there’s more to the story. Putting the data into perspective (and understanding the scientific advances during the past decade) should ally any fears if you are exploring in vitro fertilization.


IVF consists of manually combining a frozen reproductive egg and sperm in a laboratory dish, then transferring the embryo to the uterus. There are about 4 million IVF births each year in the United States – about 2 percent of all U.S. births annually – according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


Researchers with the Danish Cancer Society Research Center in Copenhagen analyzed data from more than 1 million children born in Denmark between 1996 and 2012. The rate of childhood cancer was 44.4 per 100,000 for children born via a frozen embryo. For children born to fertile women, the rate was 17.5 per 100,000. [1]


Dr. Robert Barbieri, chair of the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Biology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School, said, “This retrospective cohort study spanning 17 years in the Danish population provides reassurance that use of fertility hormones and fresh embryo transfer are not associated with increased risk for childhood cancer. However, the detection of a small excess risk following the use of cryopreserved embryos is a new and worrisome finding.


“In clinical practice, embryo cryopreservation is most often used to facilitate single embryo transfer, thereby reducing the likelihood of multiple gestations [more than one fetus] ­– an important public health goal,” added Dr. Barbieri, who specializes in infertility, reproductive surgery, and OB/GYN. “Given the substantial risk for premature birth among children born from multiple gestations, it’s unlikely that these new findings will diminish the use of embryo cryopreservation in fertility care.” [2]


In particular, the scientists’ results showed that babies conceived through frozen embryo were more than twice as likely to develop neuroblastoma, a type of brain cancer, and leukemia.


Now, on the surface, a 2.4 increase in childhood cancer clinically significant and may cause you to pause if conceiving a child from a frozen embryo is an option. However, childhood cancers are rare. To put the study in perspective, the data dates to 1996 – 25 years – and all data may not be applicable today. During the data period, Jan. 1, 1996, through Dec. 31, 2012, there were 341 childhood cancer cases.


Other factors include an older method for freezing embryos used for the study. In recent years, freezing techniques have improved. Also, women who undergo IVF with older can increase cancer risks, and the mother’s weight also could pose an increased cancer risk.


The study results did not show an association between IVF using fresh embryos and an increased prevalence of childhood cancers. The researchers suggested “the freezing and thawing of embryos, use of cryoprotectants [chemicals used to protect the embryos during freezing], and dissimilar protocols for the use of fertility drugs” as possible explanations for the difference.


Dr. Alan B. Copperman, with Mount Sinai Health System in New York, told Reuters, “It is not clear whether the finding is related to the procedure itself or the patients who needed the procedure. Any time a rare event is studied in a large retrospective study, the statistical precision to make accurate conclusions is limited.


He added, “prospective parents can be reassured that in 12.2 million ‘person-years’ of follow-up, that childhood cancer was diagnosed in less than 0.01% of children, regardless of whether or not IVF was used for conception.” [3]


While we often discuss the cost of cancer treatment, in the case of IVF, you may be considering this avenue to start family. The average cost for an IVF with frozen embryos is about $13,000 (fresh eggs is more than $17,000) – not including additional medications and testing.


As with cancer treatment, LifeGuide Partners may be able to help with a free, no-risk life insurance policy appraisal. The LifeGuide experts can tell you what your policy is worth and convert it to cash – removing your premium payments and helping you receive the money needed to cover IVF costs.



[1] Association Between Fertility Treatment and Cancer Risk in Children.

[2] Do Children Conceived by Fertility Treatment Have Excess Risk for Cancer?

[3] Children conceived from frozen embryos at increased risk for certain cancers.

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