Medically Assisted Reproduction and Risk of Cancer Among Offspring

JAMA Netw Open. 2024 May 1;7(5):e249429. doi: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2024.9429.


Importance: Cancer is a leading cause of death among children worldwide. Treatments used for medically assisted reproduction (MAR) are suspected risk factors because of their potential for epigenetic disturbance and associated congenital malformations.

Objective: To assess the risk of cancer, overall and by cancer type, among children born after MAR compared with children conceived naturally.

Design, setting, and participants: For this cohort study, the French National Mother-Child Register (EPI-MERES) was searched for all live births that occurred in France between January 1, 2010, and December 31, 2021 (and followed up until June 30, 2022). The EPI-MERES was built from comprehensive data of the French National Health Data System. Data analysis was performed from December 1, 2021, to June 30, 2023.

Exposure: Use of assisted reproduction technologies (ART), such as fresh embryo transfer (ET) or frozen ET (FET), and artificial insemination (AI).

Main outcomes and measures: The risk of cancer was compared, overall and by cancer type, among children born after fresh ET, FET, or AI and children conceived naturally, using Cox proportional hazards regression models adjusted for maternal and child characteristics at birth.

Results: This study included 8 526 306 children with a mean (SD) age of 6.4 (3.4) years; 51.2% were boys, 96.4% were singletons, 12.1% were small for gestational age at birth, and 3.1% had a congenital malformation. There were 260 236 children (3.1%) born after MAR, including 133 965 (1.6%) after fresh ET, 66 165 (0.8%) after FET, and 60 106 (0.7%) after AI. A total of 9256 case patients with cancer were identified over a median follow-up of 6.7 (IQR, 3.7-9.6) years; 165, 57, and 70 were born after fresh ET, FET, and AI, respectively. The overall risk of cancer did not differ between children conceived naturally and those born after fresh ET (hazard ratio [HR], 1.12 [95% CI, 0.96 to 1.31]), FET (HR, 1.02 [95% CI, 0.78 to 1.32]), or AI (HR, 1.09 [95% CI, 0.86 to 1.38]). However, the risk of acute lymphoblastic leukemia was higher among children born after FET (20 case patients; HR 1.61 [95% CI, 1.04 to 2.50]; risk difference [RD], 23.2 [95% CI, 1.5 to 57.0] per million person-years) compared with children conceived naturally. Moreover, among children born between 2010 and 2015, the risk of leukemia was higher among children born after fresh ET (45 case patients; HR, 1.42 [95% CI, 1.06 to 1.92]; adjusted RD, 19.7 [95% CI, 2.8 to 43.2] per million person-years).

Conclusions and relevance: The findings of this cohort study suggest that children born after FET or fresh ET had an increased risk of leukemia compared with children conceived naturally. This risk, although resulting in a limited number of cases, needs to be monitored in view of the continuous increase in the use of ART.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cohort Studies
  • Embryo Transfer / adverse effects
  • Embryo Transfer / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • France / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Neoplasms* / epidemiology
  • Neoplasms* / etiology
  • Pregnancy
  • Proportional Hazards Models
  • Registries
  • Reproductive Techniques, Assisted* / adverse effects
  • Reproductive Techniques, Assisted* / statistics & numerical data
  • Risk Factors