Recently, on our podcast Venus Rising, I had the opportunity to interview Maggie Eastman and her family about her experience with egg donation and the nightmare that occurred afterwards. Maggie was a young, bright-eyed college student when she was first recruited as an egg donor. What started as a desire to help families while earning extra money, turned into a life-threatening cancer diagnosis that has changed her life forever. Maggie was diagnosed with stage 4 invasive ductal carcinoma, a diagnosis she, as well as her oncologist, is certain she acquired as a result of multiple rounds of egg donation.
Two weeks prior to my interview with Maggie, I interviewed Valerie Landis about her experience with egg freezing. Valerie believes that there is no link between fertility drugs and cancer risk, and after our conversation, she sent me three different studies that supposedly backed her claim. As excited as Valerie was about “bio-hacking” the female body, after hearing Maggie’s personal story and others like it, and after evaluating two of the articles Valerie presented, I am still not convinced that fertility drugs are safe.
As the final installment of a three-part series, I read and evaluated the last publication provided by Valerie Landis: Do the Fertility Drugs Increase the Risk of Cancer? A Review Study. This study, like the article in part two, is another review of data already published. Printed in 2019, researchers sought “to determine the relationship between infertility treatment and cancer” by performing a comprehensive search utilizing reputable databases and summarizing what they found. A total of 81 articles were entered into the review and “the relationship between fertility medications and breast, ovary, endometrial, uterus, colon, thyroid, skin, cervical, and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma cancers were studied”.
Authors agreed that “the relationship between fertility medications and cancer is theoretically justifiable,” but concluded that in the 81 studies evaluated, “most studies have shown that risk of cancer will not increase after fertility treatment” (emphasis mine). Again, the studies presented show mixed results and are solely focused on infertile women using fertility drugs for their own treatment or IVF. None of the studies used egg-donors, egg-freezers, or gestational surrogates taking fertility drugs as its study population.
In the final remarks, the study stated:
“In spite of the relationship that exists between the ovulation-inducing drugs and cancer in some cohort studies, the results of our study showed no significant increase in the incidence of cancer by infertility treatment. According to the results of this study, there is no definitive relationship between the use of fertility drugs and cancer, and only some observational studies have pointed to this relationship. So, the following question still cannot be answered: Are fertility drugs safe? … more studies are needed to achieve a better result … At the end, the relationship between infertility treatment and cancer incidence remains an open question” (emphasis mine).
In my interview with Maggie, I was able to ask her why she thought donors still weren’t tracked or why long-term studies on the effects of egg donation on young women still weren’t being performed. The answer, for Maggie, is simple: “it is in the best interest of the fertility industry not to have that information available. If it is not available, they don’t have to disclose it.”
After evaluating all three of the articles that Valerie provided, the jury is still out. I don’t think anyone can say that fertility drugs don’t cause cancer without a reasonable amount of doubt. Would you take the risk and subject your body to the prison that is a cancer diagnosis? No? Me neither.
Thank you for reading this three-part series on the risks of cancer after fertility drugs. You can find out more about Maggie’s egg donation in the documentary Maggie’s story, on Amazon prime.
- Kallie Fell, MS, BSN, RN, started her professional career as a scientist in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center utilizing a Master of Science degree in Animal Sciences with an emphasis on Reproductive Physiology and Molecular Biology from Purdue University. While assisting in the investigation of endometriosis and pre-term birth, Kallie simultaneously pursued a degree in nursing with hopes of working with women as a perinatal nurse. After meeting Jennifer at a conference, Kallie became interested in the work of the Center for Bioethics and Culture and started volunteering with the organization. It is obvious that Kallie is passionate about women’s health. She continues to work, as she has for the past 6 years, as a perinatal nurse and has worked with the CBC since 2018, first as a volunteer writer, then as our staff Research Associate, and now as the Executive Director. In 2021, Kallie co-directed the CBC’s newest documentary, Trans Mission: What’s the Rush to Reassign Gender? Kallie also hosts the popular podcast Venus Rising and is the Program Director for the Paul Ramsey Institute.