Ovarian cancer develops when malignant cells grow in the ovaries, or around the fallopian tubes or peritoneum.
While some research indicates that taking fertility drugs may increase your risk for ovarian cancer, this doesn’t mean you’ll automatically develop ovarian cancer.
In this article, we investigate the most recent research that explores possible links between fertility drugs and ovarian cancer, as well as other risk factors for this gynecological cancer.
Ovarian cancer itself usually begins within the cells at the ends of your fallopian tubes. There’s
Fertility drugs work by assisting in the process of ovulation, or the release of an egg from your ovary. While the process itself isn’t thought to contribute to ovarian cancer, these treatments involve various different hormones
Here’s what the research has to say about some of the most commonly used fertility drugs and the possible links to ovarian cancer:
- Clomiphene citrate (Clomid, or CC). This selective estrogen receptor modulator (SERM) has been on the market since the 1960s, and may be used on its own or in combination with in-vitro fertilization (IVF). Research shows that while there’s a slight increase in ovarian cancer cases in those who took CC, the greatest risk was in those who used the fertility drug for
longer than 1 year.
- Gonadotropins. These fertility drugs are used for non-ovulatory disorders, and may sometimes be combined with CC. According to previous studies, ovarian cancer
risk increasedwith the gonadotropin-CC combination.
- Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), progesterone, luteinizing hormone (LH). All of these types of hormones used in fertility treatments have shown to
possibly be growth factorsin ovarian cancer.
Overall, the studies that have looked at potential fertility drugs and ovarian cancer links
It’s worth noting that there are limitations to the research done thus far on the link between fertility drugs and ovarian cancer.
Also, while fertility drugs may increase the overall risk of ovarian cancer, it’s not clear whether IVF treatments are linked to more aggressive cancers.
According to the
Overall, infertility has increased
For one, not having a pregnancy means you ovulate more. The ACS explains there’s
Another possible link between infertility and ovarian cancer is the previous, but unsuccessful, use of fertility treatments.
Also, if you experience infertility and want to have children, you may be more likely to take fertility treatments than someone who isn’t trying to get pregnant. This could indicate the treatment — rather than infertility itself — could increase cancer risk.
Besides fertility drugs, other known risk factors for ovarian cancer development include:
- inherited gene mutations, such as BRCA1 and BRCA2
- acquired gene mutations,
such as HER2 or TP53
- family cancer syndromes, such as Lynch syndrome, which may account for up to
25 percentof all ovarian cancer cases
- age — about
half of all ovarian cancersdevelop in women over 63 years of age
- family history of ovarian or colorectal cancers
- personal or family history of breast cancer
- having your first child after the
age of 35
- never carrying a fetus full-term, which means more ovulation cycles
- having obesity or being overweight
- taking hormone replacement therapy
If you think you’re at an increased risk for ovarian cancer, talk with a gynecologist. Your gynecologist may refer you to a genetic counselor for more advanced consideration of your risk factors and fertility options if you are still interested in having biological children.
Along with regular screenings, your gynecologist may recommend one of the following treatments to help reduce your overall risk if you don’t plan on having children:
- oral contraceptives, which may be suitable in reducing ovarian cancer risk in people without inherited gene mutations by half and can have protective effects for up to
- tubal ligation (“getting your tubes tied”)
- bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy, which is a surgery that removes the ovaries and fallopian tubes only
Additionally, it’s important to report any possible symptoms of ovarian cancer to your gynecologist right away, as treatment is
- unusual vaginal bleeding or vaginal discharge (especially after menopause)
- pain in your pelvis, abdomen, or back
- feeling full too quickly when eating
- frequent urination
Ovarian cancer is the
While research into the possible link between fertility drugs and ovarian cancer isn’t conclusive, these treatments are still considered a possible risk factor.
If you’re considering fertility treatments, you should thoroughly discuss the benefits versus possible risk factors with a doctor. They may also consider genetic and familial risk factors in helping you make this important decision.