Fertility Drugs Increase Uterine Cancer by 69%, Israeli Study Shows

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Fertility drugs increase the risk of cancer of the womb by 69%, according to an Israeli study that tracked women who underwent fertility treatments for 30 years. In contrast to previous studies, however, no link was found between the treatments and the incidence of breast and ovarian cancer.

The research team, headed by Dr. Liat Lerner-Geva who heads the Women and Children's Health Research Unit at the Gertner Institute for Epidemiology and Health Policy Research, tracked 2,431 female patients who began receiving fertility drugs between the years 1964-1974, over the course of 30 years. These drugs, which stimulate female hormone production, have been available in Israel since the early 1960s, and were later included in external fertility treatments.

By crosschecking the women's details with the information that appears in the Health Ministry's national cancer registry, it was found that the morbidity rate due to cancer of the womb was higher among the women than the rest of the population.

According to the study, 30% of the women developed cancerous tumors in the mucous membrane of their uterus, in comparison to a forecast percentage of 17.8, based on the prevalence of the tumor in the general population. Thus, it was found that these women had a 69% higher chance of being diagnosed with cancer, in comparison with the rest of the population.

Nevertheless, the researchers believe that the results are not necessarily attributable to the risk of uterine cancer treatment, but rather can be attributed to the original cause of infertility among the women. A number of previous studies have already identified a link between infertility and a higher likelihood of developing uterine cancer. However, researchers also state that one cannot separate between the problem of infertility and the medicine as a cause for cancer, as an overwhelming number of women in Israel who suffer from infertility use the medicine for treatment (especially in light of the fact that the drug is nationally subsidized). The researchers state that the danger of uterine cancer is less problematic than other dangers that have been diagnosed in previous studies, including the development of breast cancer, as uterine cancer may be cured through the removal of the uterus.

Likewise, the researchers found that as opposed to many previous studies, women who are in treatment are not in danger of developing invasive cancer. Furthermore, no statistical connection was made between the medicine and breast cancer.  

Read this article in Hebrew

Researchers working in a pathology lab.Credit: Alon Ron