Children born from frozen embryos are more likely to develop cancer later in life

Children born from embryos that were stored by freezing are more likely to develop cancer, according to a new study.  Those born from fresh embryos did not suffer the same risk.  Researchers aren't sure why that is (file photo)

An alarming new study finds that children born from frozen embryos have a higher risk of developing cancer.

Researchers at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden found that children born from frozen embryos, in particular, were at increased risk of developing leukemia and cancers related to the central nervous system. Interestingly, the same risk was not found for children born through other means of assisted reproduction.

Births from frozen embryos are relatively rare and constitute a small proportion of the total number of babies born using assisted reproductive technology (ART), and as a result, few large-scale population data are available for them.

There are currently more than a million frozen embryos in the United States, although the vast majority will never be used. Penn Medicine reports that about one million babies were born through IVF between 1987 and 2015, although almost all were born with a fresh embryo.

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report released in 2017 found that there were about 29,000 frozen embryos that resulted in a live birth in 2015, the most recent data available, in the United States.

Children born from embryos that were stored by freezing are more likely to develop cancer, according to a new study. Those born from fresh embryos did not suffer the same risk. Researchers aren’t sure why that is (file photo)

The researchers, who published their findings last week in PLOS, gathered data from 7.9 million children in four Scandinavian countries – Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden – for the study.

IVF: The technology that allows thousands of people to form a family

In vitro fertilization, known as in vitro fertilization, is a medical procedure in which a woman inserts an already fertilized egg into the uterus in order to become pregnant.

It is used when couples cannot conceive naturally, and a sperm and egg are removed from their bodies and combined in a laboratory before the embryo is inserted into the woman.

Once the embryo is in the uterus, the pregnancy should continue as normal.

The procedure can be done using eggs and sperm from a partner or from donors.

National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines recommend that IVF should be offered on the NHS to women under 43 who have been trying to conceive through intercourse regular without protection for two years.

People can also pay for IVF privately, which costs an average of £3,348 for a single cycle, according to figures published in January 2018, and there is no guarantee of success.

The NHS says success rates for women under 35 are around 29%, with the chance of a successful cycle decreasing as they get older.

It is believed that around eight million babies have been born as a result of IVF since the first case, Britain’s Louise Brown, was born in 1978.

Possibilities of success

The success rate of IVF depends on the age of the woman undergoing treatment, as well as the cause of infertility (if known).

Younger women are more likely to have a successful pregnancy.

IVF is not usually recommended for women over 42 because the chances of a successful pregnancy are thought to be too low.

Of this population, 172,000 were born with some type of ART, and 22,630 came from a frozen embryo.

Researchers found that children born after an embryo was not thawed were more likely to develop cancer at a younger age, including leukemia and cancers of the central nervous system, which usually affect the brain or spinal cord spinal, the most frequent.

On average, 2.07 of every 1,000 children born by spontaneous conception developed cancer.

Children who were born from a new embryo, which makes up the majority of IVF pregnancies, were slightly less likely to develop cancer. The researchers found that 1.97 out of 1,000 developed the disease.

Those born from a frozen embryo were most at risk, with 2.12 out of every 1,000 diagnosed.

Children born from frozen embryos were also often diagnosed earlier in life. The study found 30.08 cases per 100,000 life years, nearly double the figures for the fresh embryo and spontaneous birth groups.

However, the overall levels of cases were low and the researchers do not believe this should scare a prospective family from freezing their embryos.

“The individual risk was low, while at the population level it may have an impact due to the huge increase in freezing cycles after assisted reproduction,” said study co-author Ulla-Britt Wennerholm who acts as to gynecologist reported by the UPI.

“No increase in cancer was found among children born after assisted reproductive techniques overall.”

Researchers aren’t sure why children born from frozen embryos might be at greater risk, though they have some theories.

“The reason for a possible higher risk of cancer in children born later [embryo freezing] don’t know,” they wrote.

“Each type of childhood cancer has its own profile of risk factors, but many childhood cancers are thought to arise from embryonic accidents and originate in the womb.

High birth weight has been associated with an increased risk of childhood cancer and [changes to the DNA based on environment] have been proposed as a possible explanation.’

The number of women freezing their eggs has skyrocketed in recent years, as many in the Western world have chosen to put off building a family to pursue career goals.

In 2018, 13,000 women chose to freeze embryos, compared to fewer than 500 nearly a decade earlier, in 2009.

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