Fertility Drugs and Uterine Cancer

The inability to conceive is frustrating and disappointing for any woman who aspires to raise a family. So, it's no wonder why many couples turn to fertility treatments to improve their chances of becoming pregnant. There are numerous causes of infertility and almost as many treatments. Some women are concerned that pursing infertility treatments may increase their risk for uterine cancer.

If you've taken, or are considering, infertility treatments, here's what you need to know.

Uterine Cancer

Uterine cancer, or uterine sarcoma, is a rare form of cancer that forms in the muscles or tissues that support the uterus. It is sometimes called endometrial cancer, which specifically refers to cancer that develops on the inside lining of the uterus. The primary symptom of uterine cancer is abnormal bleeding. Other symptoms include a mass in the vagina, pain or fullness in the abdomen, and frequent urination.

Infertility Treatments

Several infertility treatments prompt ovulation, each in a slightly different fashion. Being familiar with these treatments helps to make sense of study results that link infertility treatments to uterine cancer.

Clomiphene stimulates the ovaries to produce eggs by prompting the pituitary gland to release more hormones.

Human Menopausal Gonadotropin, directly stimulates the ovaries to cause ovulation.

Follicle Stimulating Hormone stimulates the ovaries to mature egg follicles.

Human Chorionic Gonadotropin stimulates the follicles to release eggs.

The Link

Researchers have found there is a small increase in risk for uterine cancer in women who have received drugs to induce ovulation for an extended time.

In one earlier study, for example, five out of 567 women who took ovulating-inducing fertility drugs developed uterine cancer. This was three times greater than women not treated for infertility. Of those 567 women, the 362 who specifically took Clomiphene were four times more likely to develop uterine cancer.

The most recent study reported in November 2009 found that a woman's risk for uterine cancer was two times higher if she took Follicle Stimulating Hormone or Human Menopausal Gonadotropin for more than 10 years, or if she had six or more cycles of Clomiphene or Human Chorionic Gonadatropin.

Although these increases sound scary, researchers emphasize that the results represent a small number of cancers. Overall, a woman's absolute risk of developing uterine cancer is low.

Every woman must evaluate for herself the risk for developing uterine cancer with the pros of conceiving through infertility treatments.