With any medical procedure, there is always close attention paid to the short and long term effects that it may have. This can involve those indirectly involved as well as the individual(s) who undergo any treatment.
With statistics an important and unprecedented method of recording, assessing, and re-evaluating the medical ‘handbook’, it is no surprise that this data can be used when defending both sides of a debate. It would appear that every week there are new discoveries, new research, and new links made into a whole host of medical issues from IVF treatment to Cancer.
Fittingly, it is these two ‘issues’ that have recently fallen into scrutiny. Research into the links between the ovarian stimulation drugs used for IVF treatment and its long term effects in relation to cancer in children has been carried out by Britain’s fertility watchdog, The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA).
What this research highlighted was the fears related to the use of drugs in helping conception and the risk of certain cancers developing in the children. Hormone boosting drugs were not used for the birth of the first test-tube baby in 1978.
Louise Brown was conceived in a Natural cycle IVF (drug-free). However, ovarian stimulation has been widely used in IVF treatment in the last 30 years and some scientists have claimed that the long term effects of using these drugs are still unknown.
So, should we really be using high dose drugs and practicing this procedure without fully understanding the possible consequences?
French researchers warned last April the risk of children being born with acute lymphoblastic leukemia or acute myeloid leukemia is more than doubled in the presence of ovarian-stimulation drugs. On the other hand, a Swedish study suggested that the risk of ‘test-tube babies’ developing cancer was low. Two studies with two opposing conclusions.
Follow-up studies of women who had IVF have suggested a possible link between ovarian stimulation drugs used in IVF and an increase in borderline ovarian and uterine tumors. Further large studies are required.
What is of more importance is that we continue to assess the long-term effects that ovarian stimulation has on both the mother and her child. Whilst the use of drug-induced conception is favored by some, what we really need to be focusing on is developing and advancing safer ‘Mild Stimulation’ protocols which have noticeable and conclusive success rates as well as ensuring the protection of the mother and child.
More Cautious, Safer Treatments
These ‘drug-free or fewer drugs’ methods have proven benefits and eradicate the risks that are associated with ovarian stimulation. With drugs and their effects on such a concern for many, the HFEA needs to collect data on stimulation dosages and their short and long-term effects on women and their children. This way IVF institutions will not only be in a better position when recommending types of treatment but can also ensure that safer protocols are carried out.
Only with relevant and more specific research can we begin to get a confident and indeed, more accurate assessment of the effects of IVF treatment. Whilst previous studies are claimed to be ‘too small a scale to give reliable conclusions’, the regulatory authorities could take it upon themselves to recommend an upper limit for the daily and total dosages for ovarian stimulation drugs that women receive during IVF. That way, levels of protection can be managed accordingly.
IVF treatment will always be a topic for scientific and ethical debate. What we as an institution need to ensure is that protection, both short-term and long-term, is always at the forefront of our minds.