A new study from researchers in Sweden suggests that babies conceived through in vitro fertilization (IVF) have a slightly higher risk for developing cancer as a child or young adult than babies conceived without IVF. More than 2.4 million Swedish births from 1982 to 2005 were examined in the study, including nearly 27,000 test tube babies; 53 IVF babies developed cancers including brain tumors and leukemia, while only 38 non-IVF babies did. To couples considering IVF, the test tube option might start to sound like a bad deal considering the $15,000 average price tag, not to mention the physical and emotional cost. So why the higher incidence of cancer?

The higher cancer risk for IVF babies probably has nothing to do with the way they were conceived. Instead, the study’s lead researcher Dr. Bengt Kellan of the University of Lund in Sweden says the increased risk is more likely associated with the reason why parents choose IVF in the first place. If mom and dad are struggling with infertility problems, their genetics could have something to do with the cancer risks.

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Previous studies have also linked IVF to other complications including premature birth, respiratory issues and low birth weight all of which could add to the increased cancer risk. Some research has also suggested that IVF increases the risk for autism and stillbirths, though more research is needed. The same goes for the link between cancer and IVF as Kallen’s study, published in the August 2010 issue of the journal Pediatrics, was the first to look at such a large population.

Even though the results of the study represent a 42 percent increased risk, the true cancer risk for IVF babies much lower. “The total risk for a childhood cancer may be around 2 per 1,000 children (probably a little less) and the risk after IVF is 3 per 1,000 – still a very low individual risk,” Kallen told Reuters Health. He also stresses that couples shouldn’t view this research as a reason to reconsider IVF — many perfectly healthy babies are a product of the procedure.

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