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Is There a Link Between IVF and Breast Cancer?

By HERWriter Guide
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Breast Cancer related image Photo: Getty Images

TV personality Giuliana Rancic has breast cancer. The 36 year old made the announcement this week, saying it was caught early and she hopes for a full recovery. Rancic has been going through well-documented fertility treatments for some time, and said her specialist insisted on a mammogram before going through another. This is when the cancer was found.

She said her specialist insisted on the mammogram because if she did have cancer, the hormones used in fertility treatments could worsen the disease. Her statements made some women worried that IVF treatments could accelerate, or even cause, cancer.

While it's true that high levels of estrogen are linked with cancer, experts don't believe that drugs involved with the IVF process are part of that link. In fact, there may be preventive aspects.

According to an article from the health section of MSNBC.com, Adrian V. Lee, from the Women’s Cancer Research Center at the University of Pittsburgh’s Magee-Womens Research Institute stated that “...the evidence is that IVF has no effect or lowers incidence. The largest study in Sweden -- of 25,000 women who had IVF compared to 1.4 million without -- showed a 25 percent reduction in breast cancer and a 40 percent reduction in cervical cancer in those who had IVF.”

Doctors also warn about mammograms too early in life. Only five percent of breast cancer cases are with women under forty and mammograms cause radiation in the body. Breast self-exams at this age are a better option for women under the age of forty, who have no family history or cancer.

The Today Show featured Dr. Nancy Snyderman recently who agreed that there is no link between IVF and an increased risk of cancer. Seen in a link from MSNBC, she told the interviewer that "there's no known cause and effect. What we do know is that women who are older usually ask for IVF because they're having a harder time getting pregnant -- and women who are older have a higher chance of getting breast cancer, so there is an age relation, but not a hormonal relation."

EmpowHER lists risk factors for breast cancer as:

• Sex: female, although men can also get breast cancer
• Age: 50 or older
• Personal history of breast cancer
• Family members with breast cancer
• Changes in breast tissue, such as atypical ductal hyperplasia, radial scar formation, and lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS)
• Changes in certain genes (BRCA1, BRCA2, and others)
• Race: Caucasian
• Increased exposure to estrogen over a lifetime through: ◦Early onset of menstruation
• Late onset of menopause
• No childbearing or late childbearing
• Absence of breast-feeding
• Taking hormone replacement therapy for long periods of time ( Prempro for more than four years)
• Tobacco use
• Increased breast density (more lobular and ductal tissue and less fatty tissue)
• Radiation therapy before the age of 30 years old
• Overuse of alcohol

Note: Studies show that most women with known risk factors do not get breast cancer. Many women who get breast cancer have none of the risk factors listed above except age.

Rancic has undergone a lumpectomy on both breasts and will undergo radiation therapy.

Tell Us
Have you heard of any links between IVF and cancer? Do you worry there may actually be a connection?

MSNBC.com. Doctors: IVF not to blame for Rancic's breast cancer. Web. Oct. 20, 2011.

EmpowHER.com. Breast Cancer Causes and Risks. Web. Oct. 20, 2011. https://www.empowher.com/condition/breast-cancer/causes

Reviewed October 20, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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