Children conceived using in vitro fertilisation (IVF) and similar techniques have no increased overall risk of cancer in childhood, according to new research.
The study looked at data from around 106,000 births from IVF and other assisted conception techniques (intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection and other micromanipulation) in Britain over an 18 year period (1992-2008). They matched this data to information on cancer diagnoses as the babies grew up - until they were aged 15.
Overall cancer rates were strikingly similar in IVF babies and all other children - 108 cancers were diagnosed compared to an expected 110. Expected number of cancers was calculated by assuming their risk was the same as that of the general population of Britain of the same age during the same period.
The researchers found that IVF was not linked to any increased risk of the commonest childhood cancers such as leukaemia, neuroblastoma, retinoblastoma, central nervous system tumours, or renal or germ cell tumours.
They found a slight increase in the risk of two rarer types of childhood tumours - hepatic tumours and bone tumours, mainly a type called rhabdomysarcoma. There were only a small number of these cases. The authors were unable to confirm whether this increased risk was due to chance, being conceived through IVF or other factors such as low birth weight or parental infertility.
Dr Alastair Sutcliffe, study author at University College London Hospital and honorary consultant paediatrician at Great Ormond Street Hospital, said: "Our findings suggest that children conceived with IVF techniques have no greater risk of childhood cancer overall than naturally conceived children.
"These results are reassuring for parents who've had children in this way or are thinking about using it to conceive. Up until now it's been difficult to study the link between using IVF techniques and childhood cancer - which is thankfully a relatively rare event. Our study is the largest of its kind to date to look at this link and bigger than all previous studies combined. We will be revisiting the data set in five years time to see if this good news can be further verified as the child population gets older."
The paper, Cancer Risk among Children Born after Assisted Conception, is published in the New England Journal of Medicine.