On a recent episode of her podcast, Let’s Be Clear With Shannen Doherty, the actress spoke about her experience undergoing IVF.

Doherty, who has breast cancer, admitted that she once believed her IVF experience may have caused her cancer.

“I believed that the reason why I got cancer was because I did IVF,” she said. “We needed IVF and I did a bunch of rounds of it.”

Doherty added that other women she knew also were diagnosed with breast cancer after undergoing IVF.

“Through a lot of other women that I knew that did IVF that ended up getting breast cancer as well, sort of the numbers all started stacking up in my head,” she said. “If you sort of have a cell that’s a little wonky and that’s sitting on the edge of maybe turning, spreading cancer — blah, blah, blah — that all the hormones that you’re pumping into your body from IVF are only going to up that chance. That was, at least, my thinking.”

woman getting a mammogram

So, does IVF really cause breast cancer? Here's truth behind the myth.

Doherty is not the only person who has wondered if IVF led to a cancer diagnosis. On social media, there are several other women making similar claims…to the point that this is becoming a full-fledged internet myth.

But according to reproductive endocrinologist Jessica Ryniec, MD, this myth is…well, a myth.

In an Instagram video reacting to this social media conversation, Dr. Ryniec laid her take out plainly: “Bottom line: There is NO evidence that fertility treatments such as IVF increase the long-term risk of breast (or other) cancers,” she wrote.

When you’re dealing with a health crisis like breast cancer, it’s natural to want to grasp for answers. And let’s face it: IVF does take a toll on your body. But jumping to the conclusion that the two are linked isn’t scientifically backed. 

“I definitely understand where it comes from and understand how someone who is diagnosed with breast cancer would make this link for themselves,” Dr. Ryniec tells Rescripted. “At the same time, this myth being perpetuated is unfortunate as it causes unnecessary fear about a safe and effective medical treatment that many people need to grow their families.”

The link between IVF and breast cancer — or lack thereof — has been deeply researched.

doctor holding her patient's hands

“Fertility treatment and IVF have been used for many years and so we do have very good long-term data from multiple studies including meta-analyses and systematic reviews that pool data from many patients over many years of treatment and breaking down different regimens to demonstrate that assisted reproductive technology does not increase the long term risk of breast cancer,” says Dr. Ryniec.

Medical misinformation is real, especially in the age of social media — and it always seems to affect women the most. Case in point: This particular social media conversation, which will undoubtedly create even more stress for women undergoing fertility treatments (which is the last thing these women need, TBH). 

“Unfortunately as a fertility doctor who does a lot of education and support on social media I do see this happening,” says Dr. Ryniec. “Almost every post I make about reproductive health, assisted reproductive technology (including IVF), [and] infertility, there are people commenting these myths and I can see the fear grow in the dreaded comment section. With such a specialized field that takes many years of training and education and misinformation starting from such a young age for most people with poor reproductive health education it is hard to combat the myths sometimes.”

Dr. Ryniec absolutely believes this sways people away from seeking out treatment or medical advice for infertility, along with women’s health issues, from menopause to menstrual issues. 

“Unfortunately social media makes it really easy for false information to spread quickly and people don’t always realize what they are watching or reading is inaccurate,” she says.

When it comes to IVF in particular, there are already far too many myths out there. For example, people think IVF will lead someone to enter menopause prematurely, that it will automatically yield a high-risk pregnancy, that it leads to multiple gestation (this is not the case anymore, as guidelines have changed over the years), and that IVF is the only available option for people dealing with infertility.

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And then, of course, there’s the hormones conversation. On social media, people talk about hormonal health constantly, often sharing tips or ideas that are not science-backed. This conversation undoubtedly plays a role in perpetuating the myth that IVF could cause breast cancer, as people often surmise that the hormonal treatment involved during the IVF process can mess with a person’s hormones down the line, thereby leading to cancer. 

But have people gotten too consumed with hormonal health and balance on social media? For Dr. Ryniec, the answer to that is clear. “100% yes,” she says.

So the next time you see content about the link between breast cancer, ask yourself: Is this an informational video from a bona fide expert, like a reproductive endocrinologist? There are plenty of those out there, and in the case of this particular internet myth, they’re all there to bust it open. 

woman giving herself a breast exam

But if the piece of content you’re coming across comes from someone without science-backed evidence and the qualifications needed to interpret said evidence? Tune it out. At the end of the day, it’s noise, and it’s just going to cause you (and others considering, undergoing, or having undergone IVF) unnecessary stress. 

Beyond that, it can prevent people from actually seeking the care they need in order to build their families, which can lead to so much heartbreak. 

“Stigma, misperception, misinformation, and social judgment may lead people to not present for care and also to question safe and effective treatments,” says Dr. Ryniec. “Repeated exposure on social media and from influencers or high profile people has been shown to significantly affect individuals’ beliefs and truth judgment.”

Zara Hanawalt is a freelance journalist and mom of twins. She's written for outlets like Parents, MarieClaire, Elle, Cosmopolitan, Motherly, and many others. In her (admittedly limited!) free time, she enjoys cooking, reading, trying new restaurants, and traveling with her family.