Assisted reproductive technologies have helped couples achieve healthy pregnancies for decades, but there are still common myths about fertility and the in vitro fertilization (IVF) process. As part of our “Pregnancy and Fertility” series, we talked with fertility nurse Cristina Vidal, RN, and reproductive endocrinologist Dr. Ruben Alvero, MD, about the most common misconceptions they hear from patients.
Myth #1: During IVF, the use of hormones to hyperstimulate the ovaries causes cancer.
Reality: The vast majority of studies have not shown an increase in cancer risk due to the stimulation of the ovaries during IVF. “There is not enough research that proves it,” Cristina said.
Women experiencing fertility issues, though, may have an increased risk for cancer. According to Dr. Alvero, “women that are infertile have a higher risk of complications, including cancer, but that's infertility itself that's potentially the culprit, rather than the process of hyperstimulation.”
Cristina adds, “Breast, ovarian, and uterine cancer are more common in women with infertility than women in the general population. But the studies don’t show a direct correlation between fertility drugs and increased cancer risk.”
Myth #2: I am guaranteed to achieve pregnancy through IVF.
Reality: There are many factors, such as parental age, age of the woman’s eggs, and underlying causes of infertility that play a role in successful pregnancies that may not be resolved with IVF treatment.
According to Cristina, “IVF definitely increases the possibility of getting pregnant, but that doesn't mean that you're going to get pregnant 100%. In general, a woman under 35 has a 37-40% chance of having a baby. The chances of success decrease with age. Success rates vary from clinic to clinic.”
Myth #3: Intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) results in abnormal babies.
Reality: “Studies have not detected differences in the development of children born with ICSI versus conventional IVF or natural conception,” according to Cristina. “ICSI is associated with a slightly higher risk of birth defects, but it has not been determined if it is due to the ICSI procedure or due to sperm issues,” since the reasons for using ICSI is often due to male infertility.
Myth #4: There is a higher risk of multiple gestations with IVF.
Reality: “In the old days, doctors used to transfer many more embryos at a time,” Cristina tells us, which would have commonly resulted in twins and triplets. Multiple gestations can increase pregnancy complications for both the mother and her babies.
With advances in IVF technology and embryo genetic testing, Cristina says that “the general practice now is to transfer one embryo. We control the number of embryos we transfer, so we decrease the chances of multiples.”
Dr. Alvero says, “Because you only put a single embryo, that almost eliminates the possibility of multiple gestations,” barring the small chance the embryo splits into two in the uterus, creating identical twins.