Risk of cancer in children and young adults conceived by assisted reproductive technology

Mandy Spaan, Alexandra W. van den Belt-Dusebout, Marry M. van den Heuvel-Eibrink, Michael Hauptmann, Cornelis B. Lambalk, Curt W. Burger, Flora E. van Leeuwen*, R. Schats, M. Kortman, J. S. E. Laven, E. J. P. van Santbrink, L. A. J. van der Westerlaken, B. J. Cohlen, D. D. M. Braat, J. M. J. Smeenk, J. A. Land, M. Goddijn, R. J. T. van Golde, M. M. E. van Rumste, C. J. C. M. HamiltonP. A. M. Meeuwissen, OMEGA-steering group

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


STUDY QUESTION Do children conceived by ART have an increased risk of cancer?

SUMMARY ANSWER Overall, ART-conceived children do not appear to have an increased risk of cancer.

WHAT IS KNOWN ALREADY Despite the increasing use of ART, i.e. IVF or ICSI worldwide, information about possible long-term health risks for children conceived by these techniques is scarce.

STUDY DESIGN, SIZE, DURATION A nationwide historical cohort study with prospective follow-up (median 21 years), including all live-born offspring from women treated with subfertility treatments between 1980 and 2001.

PARTICIPANTS/MATERIALS, SETTING, METHODS All offspring of a nationwide cohort of subfertile women (OMEGA study) treated in one of the 12 Dutch IVF clinics or two fertility clinics. Of 47 690 live-born children, 24 269 were ART-conceived, 13 761 naturally conceived and 9660 were conceived naturally or through fertility drugs, but not by ART. Information on the conception method of each child and potential confounders were collected through the mothers' questionnaires and medical records. Cancer incidence was ascertained through linkage with The Netherlands Cancer Registry from 1 January 1989 until 1 November 2016. Cancer risk in ART-conceived children was compared with risks in naturally conceived children from subfertile women (hazard ratios [HRs]) and with the general population (standardized incidence ratios [SIRs]).

MAIN RESULTS AND THE ROLE OF CHANCE The median follow-up was 21 years (interquartile range (IQR): 17-25) and was shorter in ART-conceived children (20 years, IQR: 17-23) compared with naturally conceived children (24 years, IQR: 20-30). In total, 231 cancers were observed. Overall cancer risk was not increased in ART-conceived children, neither compared with naturally conceived children from subfertile women (HR: 1.00, 95% CI 0.72-1.38) nor compared with the general population (SIR = 1.11, 95% CI: 0.90-1.36). From 18 years of age onwards, the HR of cancer in ART-conceived versus naturally conceived individuals was 1.25 (95% CI: 0.73-2.13). Slightly but non-significantly increased risks were observed in children conceived by ICSI or cryopreservation (HR = 1.52, 95% CI: 0.81-2.85; 1.80, 95% CI: 0.65-4.95, respectively). Risks of lymphoblastic leukemia (HR = 2.44, 95% CI: 0.81-7.37) and melanoma (HR = 1.86, 95% CI: 0.66-5.27) were non-significantly increased for ART-conceived compared with naturally conceived children.

LIMITATIONS, REASONS FOR CAUTION Despite the large size and long follow-up of the cohort, the number of cancers was rather small for subgroup analyses as cancer in children and young adults is rare.

WIDER IMPLICATIONS OF THE FINDINGS Overall, ART-conceived children do not appear to have an increased cancer risk after a median follow-up of 21 years. This large study provides important results, enabling physicians to better inform couples considering ART about the long-term safety of ART for their children. However, larger studies with prolonged follow-up are needed to investigate cancer risk in adults and in children conceived by ICSI and/or from cryopreserved embryos.

STUDY FUNDING/COMPETING INTEREST(S) This work was supported by The Dutch Cancer Society (NKI 2006-3631) which funded the OMEGA-women's cohort and Children Cancer Free (KIKA;147) which funded the OMEGA-offspring cohort. We declare no competing interests.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)740-750
Number of pages11
JournalHuman Reproduction
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2019


  • IVF
  • offspring
  • fertility drugs
  • cancer
  • long-term
  • BORN


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