PHILADELPHIA — Infertile women are more likely to suffer an early death, a new study finds.
Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania examined data on over 78,000 American women who partook in a longitudinal study conducted by the National Cancer Institute, finding that infertile females were 10 percent more likely to die in the following years than those who had the capacity to reproduce.
Certain deadly diseases afflicted infertile women at an even higher rate, such as cancer, which had a 20 percent higher incidence in females who experienced infertility.
“While associations between infertility and overall health have been noted in the male population, until now, the relationship between a woman’s fertility and her overall health has not been as robustly examined,” explains lead author Dr. Natalie Stentz in a university news release. “Though we can’t yet explain the association between infertility and mortality, it is possible that the condition may be an early indicator of either endocrine or inflammatory disruption that over time, leads to long term health issues such as malignancy or diabetes.”
Only 14.5 percent of the participants studied reported infertility, allowing the researchers to compare them against a more sizable control group that had no childbearing abnormalities.
Interestingly, some cancers, such as breast cancer, were found to be highly linked to a woman’s infertility, while others, including ovarian and endometrial cancers, did not develop at heightened levels.
Perhaps most worryingly, women who were identified as infertile were 70 percent more likely than healthy women to die from diabetes, despite the incidence of metabolic disorder being relatively equal among both groups.
“The results raise significant questions over the long-term effects of infertility and whether it is infertility itself or an underlying condition that predisposes an individual to infertility that drives these increased risks,” Stentz says.
While Stentz acknowledges that her study doesn’t fully address how a woman’s infertility in her 20s and 30s may affect her in her twilight years, “our results highlight the fact that a history of infertility is indeed related to a woman’s life long health, and opens a potential opportunity for screening and/or preventative management for infertile women for both women’s health care providers and the general practitioner,” the researcher concludes.
Stentz and her research team presented their findings at the American Society of Reproductive Medicine Scientific Congress and Expo in San Antonio in late October.