The risks of birth defects and childhood cancer with conception by assisted reproductive technology

Barbara Luke, Morton B. Brown, Ethan Wantman, Maria J. Schymura, Marilyn L. Browne, Sarah C. Fisher, Nina E. Forestieri, Chandrika Rao, Hazel B. Nichols, Mahsa M. Yazdy, Susan T. Gershman, Caitlin R. Sacha, Melanie Williams, Mary K. Ethen, Mark A. Canfield, Kevin J. Doody, Michael L. Eisenberg, Valerie L. Baker, Carrie Williams, Alastair G. SutcliffeMelissa A. Richard, Philip J. Lupo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


STUDY QUESTION: Is there an association between fertility status, method of conception and the risks of birth defects and childhood cancer? SUMMARY ANSWER: The risk of childhood cancer had two independent components: (i) method of conception and (ii) presence, type and number of birth defects. WHAT IS KNOWN ALREADY: The rarity of the co-occurrence of birth defects, cancer and ART makes studying their association challenging. Prior studies have indicated that infertility and ART are associated with an increased risk of birth defects or cancer but have been limited by small sample size and inadequate statistical power, failure to adjust for or include plurality, differences in definitions and/or methods of ascertainment, lack of information on ART treatment parameters or study periods spanning decades resulting in a substantial historical bias as ART techniques have improved. STUDY DESIGN, SIZE, DURATION: This was a population-based cohort study linking ART cycles reported to the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology Clinic Outcome Reporting System (SART CORS) from 1 January 2004 to 31 December 2017 that resulted in live births in 2004-2018 in Massachusetts and North Carolina and live births in 2004-2017 in Texas and New York. A 10:1 sample of non-ART births were chosen within the same time period as the ART birth. Non-ART siblings were identified through the ART mother's information. Children from non-ART births were classified as being born to women who conceived with ovulation induction or IUI (OI/IUI) when there was an indication of infertility treatment on the birth certificate, and the woman did not link to the SART CORS; all others were classified as being naturally conceived. PARTICIPANTS/MATERIALS, SETTING, METHODS: The study population included 165 125 ART children, 31 524 non-ART siblings, 12 451 children born to OI/IUI-treated women and 1 353 440 naturally conceived children. All study children were linked to their respective State birth defect registries to identify major defects diagnosed within the first year of life. We classified children with major defects as either chromosomal (i.e. presence of a chromosomal defect with or without any other major defect) or nonchromosomal (i.e. presence of a major defect but having no chromosomal defect), or all major defects (chromosomal and nonchromosomal), and calculated rates per 1000 children. Logistic regression models were used to generate adjusted odds ratios (AORs) and 95% CIs of the risk of birth defects by conception group (OI/IUI, non-ART sibling and ART by oocyte source and embryo state) with naturally conceived children as the reference, adjusted for paternal and maternal ages; maternal race and ethnicity, education, BMI, parity, diabetes, hypertension; and for plurality, infant sex and State and year of birth. All study children were also linked to their respective State cancer registries. Cox proportional hazards regression models were used to estimate hazard ratios (HRs) and 95% CIs of cancer by birth defect status (including presence of a defect, type and number of defects), and conception group. MAIN RESULTS AND THE ROLE OF CHANCE: A total of 29 571 singleton children (2.0%) and 3753 twin children (3.5%) had a major birth defect (chromosomal or nonchromosomal). Children conceived with ART from autologous oocytes had increased risks for nonchromosomal defects, including blastogenesis, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal and, for males only, genitourinary defects, with AORs ranging from 1.22 to 1.85; children in the autologous-fresh group also had increased risks for musculoskeletal (AOR 1.28, 95% CI 1.13, 1.45) and orofacial defects (AOR 1.40, 95% CI 1.17, 1.68). Within the donor oocyte group, the children conceived from fresh embryos did not have increased risks in any birth defect category, whereas children conceived from thawed embryos had increased risks for nonchromosomal defects (AOR 1.20, 95% CI 1.03, 1.40) and blastogenesis defects (AOR 1.74, 95% CI 1.14, 2.65). The risk of cancer was increased among ART children in the autologous-fresh group (HR 1.31, 95% CI 1.08, 1.59) and non-ART siblings (1.34, 95% CI 1.02, 1.76). The risk of leukemia was increased among children in the OI/IUI group (HR 2.15, 95% CI 1.04, 4.47) and non-ART siblings (HR 1.63, 95% CI 1.02, 2.61). The risk of central nervous system tumors was increased among ART children in the autologous-fresh group (HR 1.68, 95% CI 1.14, 2.48), donor-fresh group (HR 2.57, 95% CI 1.04, 6.32) and non-ART siblings (HR 1.84, 95% CI 1.12, 3.03). ART children in the autologous-fresh group were also at increased risk for solid tumors (HR 1.39, 95% CI 1.09, 1.77). A total of 127 children had both major birth defects and cancer, of which 53 children (42%) had leukemia. The risk of cancer had two independent components: (i) method of conception (described above) and (ii) presence, type and number of birth defects. The presence of nonchromosomal defects increased the cancer risk, greater for two or more defects versus one defect, for all cancers and each type evaluated. The presence of chromosomal defects was strongly associated with cancer risk (HR 8.70 for all cancers and HR 21.90 for leukemia), further elevated in the presence of both chromosomal and nonchromosomal defects (HR 21.29 for all cancers, HR 64.83 for leukemia and HR 4.71 for embryonal tumors). Among the 83 946 children born from ART in the USA in 2019 compared to their naturally conceived counterparts, these risks translate into an estimated excess of 761 children with major birth defects, 31 children with cancer and 11 children with both major birth defects and cancer. LIMITATIONS, REASONS FOR CAUTION: In the SART CORS database, it was not possible to differentiate method of embryo freezing (slow freezing versus vitrification), and data on ICSI were only available in the fresh embryo ART group. In the OI/IUI group, it was not possible to differentiate type of non-ART treatment utilized, and in both the ART and OI/IUI groups, data were unavailable on duration of infertility. Since OI/IUI is underreported on the birth certificate, some OI/IUI children were likely included among the naturally conceived children, which will decrease the difference between all the groups and the naturally conceived children. WIDER IMPLICATIONS OF THE FINDINGS: The use of ART is associated with increased risks of major nonchromosomal birth defects. The presence of birth defects is associated with greater risks for cancer, which adds to the baseline risk in the ART group. Although this study does not show causality, these findings indicate that children conceived with ART, non-ART siblings, and all children with birth defects should be monitored more closely for the subsequent development of cancer. STUDY FUNDING/COMPETING INTEREST(S): This project was supported by grant R01 HD084377 from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, or the National Institutes of Health, nor any of the State Departments of Health which contributed data. M.L.E. reports consultancy for Ro, Hannah, Dadi, Sandstone and Underdog; presidency of SSMR; and SMRU board member. The remaining authors report no conflict of interest.N/A.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2672-2689
Number of pages18
JournalHuman reproduction (Oxford, England)
Issue number11
StatePublished - Oct 31 2022


  • in vitro fertilization (IVF)
  • assisted reproductive technology (ART)
  • birth defects
  • childhood cancer
  • embryo state
  • oocyte source
  • siblings
  • singletons
  • twins

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Reproductive Medicine
  • Obstetrics and Gynecology


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