Do fertility drugs increase the risk of ovarian cancer?

No, fertility drugs do not significantly increase the risk of ovarian cancer. The link between fertility drugs and ovarian cancer has been a subject of medical research and debate for several decades. This article delves into the evidence, clarifying the risks, the biological mechanisms involved, and the perspectives of medical experts in the field.

Understanding Fertility Drugs

Fertility drugs are medications used to stimulate ovulation in women who have difficulties conceiving. The most commonly used drugs include clomiphene citrate (Clomid), gonadotropins, and letrozole. These drugs act by increasing levels of certain hormones that trigger ovulation.

Historical Context and Research Evolution

Concerns about the potential link between fertility drugs and ovarian cancer arose in the early 1990s when initial studies suggested that women who used these drugs might be at an increased risk of developing ovarian cancer, especially if they never conceived. Since then, numerous studies have been conducted to explore this possible association.

Reviewing the Evidence: Key Studies and Findings

1. Longitudinal Studies and Meta-Analyses

Many studies have investigated the long-term effects of fertility drug use on ovarian cancer risk. A significant meta-analysis in the early 2000s pooled data from several studies, suggesting a slight increase in risk. However, subsequent larger and more comprehensive studies have found no significant link. For example, a large cohort study by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine in 2012 concluded that there is no substantial increase in ovarian cancer risk for women using clomiphene citrate even after 12 cycles of use.

2. Subgroup Analyses

Further research has focused on specific subgroups of women, such as those with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), who are more likely to use fertility drugs. Studies in these subgroups have also failed to consistently show a direct causal relationship between fertility drug use and increased ovarian cancer risk.

3. Mechanisms of Action

Understanding how fertility drugs stimulate ovulation also provides insight into their safety. The drugs work by inducing the release of hormones like follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH), which are natural components of the reproductive cycle. The concerns about cancer risk stem from the hypothesis that repeated stimulation of the ovaries could lead to cellular changes that increase cancer risk. However, biological studies have not consistently supported this hypothesis.

Expert Opinions and Guidelines

Medical experts and reproductive specialists largely agree that the current evidence does not support a strong link between fertility drugs and ovarian cancer. The American Cancer Society and other health organizations suggest that other factors, such as family history and genetic predispositions, play a more significant role in a woman’s risk of developing ovarian cancer.

Considerations for Women Using Fertility Drugs

For women considering or using fertility drugs, the decision should be made with a comprehensive understanding of the potential risks and benefits. Discussing personal and family medical history with a healthcare provider can help assess the individual risk. Moreover, regular monitoring and follow-up during and after treatment with fertility drugs are crucial for early detection and management of any potential complications.


The balance of evidence to date suggests that fertility drugs do not significantly increase the risk of ovarian cancer. However, ongoing research is essential to continually monitor long-term outcomes as fertility treatments evolve. Women undergoing treatment should maintain open communication with their healthcare providers to make informed decisions based on the most current and relevant data.