Experts are calling for a National Egg Donor Registry after several cases where women in the US donated eggs and then later developed breast cancer. Right now, there are no egg donor registries in the US or UK and very few long-term studies on donors who have taken fertility drugs to help hopeful recipients become parents. Lack of data related to egg donors’ long-term health makes it difficult or impossible to say for sure what effect fertility drugs may have on a donor’s odds of developing cancer.
We don’t know with certainty whether a connection exists between egg donation and breast cancer in the donor. Experts point out that the only way to draw a firm conclusion is to keep track of egg donors and their long-term health following donation. Until we do this, women considering egg donation can benefit from clear and realistic explanations of unstudied long-term health risks related to fertility drugs.
There does not appear to be a long-term breast cancer risk from IVF, during which women receive the same hormone treatment as egg donors. That’s good news, but there still exists a lack of data specific to donors, which has hindered proper assessment of risks that may exist for this population. Establishing registries for egg donors that allow for follow-up studies would be an effective way to solve this problem and shed light on health issues that may be connected to repeated hormone treatments in egg donors.
Should Egg Donors be Concerned?
If you are considering donating eggs, or have done so in the past, there is little need for concern. The women known to have developed breast cancer after donating eggs represent a much smaller number of women than the number of women in the general population that would be expected – statistically speaking – to develop breast cancer. The women who developed breast cancer following egg donation received more aggressive regimes than are typically recommended to potential donors, making their cases atypical. They received large numbers of eggs and more rounds of treatment than most egg donors, so it could be that an elevated cancer risk is associated with these more aggressive treatments, not fertility drugs.
The controversy is important to understand: any risk to egg donors undergoing treatment should be clearly understood so donors can make an educated choice. Especially when the purpose of the treatment is to help other people, it’s essential that young women understand that there are risks – known and unknown –when they choose to donate eggs. But based on the lack of documented evidence to the contrary, professionals continue to view egg donation as a safe and effective fertility treatment.