Kids, Cancer, Ivf, and Infant Formula: A Logic Puzzle Not on Your Kid’s Sat

Kids, Cancer, IVF, and Infant Formula: A Logic Puzzle Not on Your Kid’s SAT.

No, I’m not prepping for the logic section of the SAT, but I’ve got a puzzling logic problem of my own after reading about kids and cancer.  Yes, kids with cancer. Pretty much a parent’s worst nightmare.  Something the media could really milk. If I’m being cynical, I’d expect the media to run away with the new study out of Sweden showing children conceived in vitro face slightly higher cancer risks.   Pump up the fear, forget to tell us why we shouldn’t be so scared.  After reading the journal article I was prepared for the embellishment of the rather undramatic results that IVF children have slightly elevated risks of childhood and early adulthood cancers for uncertain reasons.    

So I was pleasantly surprised to read Time’s finely nuanced piece on the IVF study published in this month’s Pediatrics (see the Times article, Study: Why IVF is Linked with Cancer Risk): 

The article delves into the details like the number of cancer cases in IVF young adults (56) versus others (38) in the sample of 2.4 million births, including over 26,000 IVF babies.   The reporter could have merely told us the risk increases by 42%, then we’d be worried, right?  But we learn these cancers are very rare and that in plain English, the risk translates to just one more case of cancer per 1,000 IVF babies.  Phewww.  And there’s discussion of why it’s so hard to study the issue, complicated by the tangle of factors that might contribute to a higher risk – something about the infertile mothers, something to do with the specifics of invitro fertilization, or those of preterm birth in general, like the child’s birth weight, birth size, breathing issues, Apgar scores, etc.   

Interesting, refreshing in nuance.  But then this little nugget stuck out:

Even if the study had confirmed IVF as a risk factor, experts say the level of increased risk is not enough to deter parents from undergoing the treatment. While IVF may bump up a tiny risk of childhood cancer, without it, many infertile couples may not have a baby at all.

All good.  The way it should be.  

Basically the lead researchers and the reporter bent over backwards to assure IVF parents and children they should not sit around worrying about cancer. And potential IVF parents certainly should not NOT do IVF just because of this slightly elevated cancer risk. 

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