Many women undergoing treatment for infertility are given fertility drugs when they are trying to conceive. Two of the most commonly used fertility drugs are Clomid and injections of a class of drugs known as gonadotropin releasing hormones. These contain follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH) to induce ovulation.
I took both of these drugs during the six years we were trying to conceive our first child, who is now ten years old. Women continue to take both classes of drugs today. For years, there have been whispers about a link between certain cancers and fertility drugs. These are generally female cancers, such as breast, uterine and ovarian.
Years ago, I asked my doctor about the link. He brushed it aside, saying that the studies were flawed since they included women who had never given birth. In addition, he said certain conditions, such as PCOS may increase the cancer risk, with or without the drugs. Now, a new study offers information and re-opens the debate about the safety of these medicines.
The study was conducted in Israel and followed 15,000 women for thirty years after their babies were born. This is the first long term study to follow up with women many years after the use of fertility medications. Of the group, 567 had reported using the injectible fertility drugs 30 years ago and 362 had taken Clomid.
The group of women who had used fertility drugs had higher rates of uterine. The women taking the injections had a rate of uterine cancer that was three times higher than the women who had not taken the drug. The group of women taking Clomid had a four times greater incidence of uterine cancer.
The study found a small increase in the incidence of breast cancer, but no increase in ovarian cancer. There were two cancers that appeared slightly elevated in the women taking fertility drugs, non Hodgkin’s lymphoma and malignant melanoma.
While the risk of cancer was elevated, the incidence of uterine cancer remained small, affecting only five of the 567 women in the fertility drug group. Further studies will likely be conducted to either confirm or refute these findings. In the meantime, women and their doctors will need to determine the best course of action.