Cancer risk associated with subfertility and ovulation induction: a review

Cancer Causes Control. 2000 Apr;11(4):319-44. doi: 10.1023/a:1008921211309.


Objective: Over the past decades the use of fertility drugs (FDs) has greatly increased. Recently, the possible association between the use of FDs and risk of cancer has aroused great concern. In this paper, we critically review the available epidemiologic studies.

Methods: We identified papers published between 1966 and 1999 that examined FDs and specific causes of subfertility in relation to the risks of cancers of the ovary, breast, endometrium and thyroid, and melanoma.

Results: Although present insights into the pathogenesis of hormone-related malignancies suggest a possible association between the use of FDs and the risk of specific cancers, this has not been convincingly demonstrated in epidemiologic studies. With regard to cancer risk in relation to the cause of subfertility, the only consistent association observed is an increased risk of endometrial cancer for women with subfertility due to hormonal disorders. While positive findings in some studies on FDs and ovarian cancer risk have aroused serious concern, the associations observed in most of these reports appear to be due to bias or chance rather than being causal. The most important sources of bias are inadequate confounder control for both parity and causes of subfertility.

Conclusions: To discriminate between the possible carcinogenic effects of various ovulation induction regimens, subfertility disorders, and reproductive characteristics associated with subfertility, future studies should include large populations of subfertile women with sufficient follow-up time. In such cohort studies the cause of subfertility should be measured adequately (based on medical records) and information about reproductive characteristics should be collected for all cohort members. Such studies should also include a group of subfertile women with an indication for FD use but not so treated.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Breast Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Breast Neoplasms / etiology
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Endometrial Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Endometrial Neoplasms / etiology
  • Female
  • Fertility Agents, Female / adverse effects*
  • Global Health
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Infertility, Female / complications
  • Infertility, Female / drug therapy*
  • Melanoma / epidemiology
  • Melanoma / etiology
  • Neoplasms, Hormone-Dependent / epidemiology*
  • Neoplasms, Hormone-Dependent / etiology
  • Ovarian Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Ovarian Neoplasms / etiology
  • Ovulation Induction*
  • Risk Factors
  • Skin Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Skin Neoplasms / etiology
  • Thyroid Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Thyroid Neoplasms / etiology


  • Fertility Agents, Female