Shannen Doherty Once ‘Believed’ IVF Caused Her Cancer: How It Affected Her Treatment Plan

Shannen Doherty Once Believed IVF Treatments Caused Her Cancer How It Affected Her Treatment Plan
Shannen Doherty Weiss Eubanks/NBCUniversal

Shannen Doherty is opening up about her cancer journey and why she used to believe that in-vitro fertility treatments caused her illness.

Doherty, 52, opened up about her health on the Monday, January 1, episode of "Let's Be Clear with Shannen Doherty" podcast with her own oncologist, Dr. Lawrence Piro. She recalled why she rejected Piro's suggestion to take Tamoxifen, a drug that has been shown to reduce the chance of breast cancer in women who are high-risk, after going into remission in 2017.

"I look back and I go, 'Well, maybe had I taken it ...'" Doherty said.

She was initially diagnosed with breast cancer in March 2015, undergoing chemotherapy through February 2017. Two months later, Doherty announced that she was in remission, but her cancer returned and developed to stage IV. In November 2023, she revealed the disease metastasized to her bones and brain.

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"I also think that I was fairly certain it wasn't going to come back, because I believed that the reason why I got cancer was because I did IVF," Doherty admitted. "I met my husband at the time later in years and a multitude of things happened, and so when it was time to have that decision, we needed IVF and I did a bunch of rounds of it."

Doherty split from estranged husband Kurt Iswarienko in April after 11 years of marriage. (She claimed last month that they broke up after she learned he was cheating on her just before she had brain surgery.)

At the time of her first cancer battle, Doherty started to believe that her attempts to have a baby were the cause of her cancer. A 2021 report from the National Institute of Health evaluated 100 studies of IVF’s correlation to cancer. While some studies found a slight increase in risk for "hormone-sensitive cancers," which includes breast cancer, there was no conclusive evidence to support or contradict this idea.

"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," Doherty explained. "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."

Doherty's belief led her to assume that her cancer wouldn't return after she went into remission in 2017.

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"So when I got the 'you're all clear' remission after chemo and all of that, I knew I wasn't doing IVF anymore because I was already in menopause," she said. "So there was no need for it. I was pretty sure. I don't want to say that I made a very uninformed decision, I'm a researcher, I'm hardcore about, you know, backing up some of my data, certainly not at your level and certainly not at doctors' levels and researchers' levels. So my decision was, at the time, based on sort of the facts that I knew that I had investigated, and you, in fact, did keep on encouraging me to take the Tamoxifen and I was like, 'Absolutely not.'"

Piro noted that Doherty still wanted to have a family, and the drug’s estrogen suppression would delay that further. "Menstruation can return," he explained. "You were still hopeful that it might return for you because you still want to have a baby."

Doherty confirmed, "Yeah, desperately."

She added, "It did definitely play a huge role. Not only did I want a child for myself, but I wanted it for my husband. I wanted it for our marriage. I wanted, you know, I wanted him to have that part of him self-fulfilled as well. So it seemed like a calculated risk that wasn't too bad of one to take."

After reminding her that she had carefully weighed the risks of her choice, Piro emphasized that Doherty can't look back and question her decisions now. He encouraged her to keep looking forward as they continue her treatment.