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Children conceived using in vitro fertilization (IVF) may have a higher risk of cancer compared with children born without IVF, according to a study published in Pediatrics.

In vitro fertilization is a type of assisted reproductive technology that is used when parents cannot conceive a child on their own. In IVF, the egg cells are fertilized outside the womb. The fertilized egg is then implanted in the mother’s womb, where it develops as a normal pregnancy.

Possible complications of IVF include an increased risk of birth defects and birth complications, including preterm birth. There has also been concern that children conceived using IVF may have an increased risk for cancer. No researcher, however, has yet linked IVF and increased cancer risk.

A recent study conducted in Sweden compared the incidence of cancer among children conceived using IVF with incidence among children born without IVF. Of the almost 27,000 children evaluated, the researchers identified 53 incidence of cancer among IVF children compared with 38 expected cases among the non-IVF population. Common types of cancers included hematologic cancers and eye or central nervous system tumors. Other risk factors for cancer included premature birth, low birth weight, respiratory problems, and a low Apgar score (an assessment of a newborn’s health).

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The researchers concluded that children conceived using IVF have a moderately increased risk of developing cancer compared with children conceived without IVF. They add, however, that this risk is unlikely significant enough to influence parents’ decisions to use IVF.

Reference: Källén B, Finnström O, Lindam A, et al. Cancer risk in children and young adults conceived by in vitro fertilization. Pediatrics [early online publication]. July 19, 2010.

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