A retrospective cohort study found that infertility in women was associated with an increased risk of death from certain endocrine related disease such as diabetes and breast cancer [1].

As infertility in women may be a sign of endocrine or inflammatory disruption, scientists have had concerns about its long-term effects on women’s health. Researchers from the Reproductive Endocrinology & Infertility at the University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, PA) set out to study the link between infertility and mortality in women in the PLCO trial.

The Prostate, Lung, Colorectal, and Ovarian (PLCO) Cancer Screening Trial is a large population-based trial designed to determine the effects of screening on cancer-related mortality and other endpoints in adults aged 55 to 74. This study population included more than 78,000 women who had provided information on fertility history. Approximately 14.5% of the participants were infertile, defined as inability to conceive for 1 year or greater.

The data showed that, compared with women who were fertile, women with infertility had an increased risk of death by roughly 10%.  When examining the cause of death, the researchers found that women with infertility were roughly 69% more likely to die from diabetes and 43% more likely to die of breast cancer than women without infertility issues.

The researchers cautioned that these associations needed to be confirmed in other prospective studies. Currently it is unclear whether infertility itself causes the increased risk. It is possible that some underlying conditions that predispose women to infertility are the main cause of increased mortality.

The study results were presented at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine 2017 Scientific Congress in San Antonio, Texas (October 2017).

Why is this Clinically Relevant?

  • Infertility may be an early indicator of other endocrine or inflammatory disorders
  • However, there is no need to modify current standard of care for infertility, as many related questions need to be investigated and the current observations need to be confirmed
  • Nevertheless, routine infertility care may present an opportunity for early screening and intervention for long-term health outcomes

Click here to read the abstract presented at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine 2017 Scientific Congress


[1] Stentz, N.C., et al., Infertility & mortality. Fertility and Sterility, 2017. 108(3): p. e4.

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