Hopefully we are all beginning to face the fact that health issues in the dairy population have flown under the radar for far too long. Johnes, Leucosis and E Coli are three, all independent of each other, that come to mind easily. The other day something came across my desk that raised more concern. A recent article out of UK reports that young women having IVF treatment are at ‘higher risk of breast cancer’. It goes on to say that the Australian study has found that , “Women who have IVF in their twenties are up to 50 per cent more likely to develop breast cancer.” The key alarm raised is that “the use of strong hormones to stimulate the ovaries to produce more eggs during fertility treatment as hyperstimulation can be fatal.” Granted this is talking about women in the human population but we have all experienced the parallels between ourselves and the girls in the barn. The article was well balanced and cautioned against making assumptions, concluding that “A lot more work would be needed before we can say definitively whether these results are true or not.” Only good can come from further study.
Now from the bovine side. It stimulates a series of questions and considerations. Recently the dairy industry has recorded deaths of some high profile cows due to cancer. Rainyridge Talent Barbara, Shoremar S Alicia, Winterbay Goldwyn Lotto. When you add to that list others such as Comestar Goldwyn Lilac, dying in her prime, and then consider all the more ordinary cows, both yours and mine, that don’t make headlines, you can begin to think that this could be serious. The first question needs to be asked, “Does IVF increase cancer risk in cows?” Of course, you can’t stop there. My mind is rolling out questions such as these:
- Is there currently any research being done into cancer in bovines?
- Could this be a thesis – for a university student?
- How could we get a comparable study of cancer deaths in the bovine population?
- Which age group in the bovine population has the largest number of deaths from cancer?
- Are younger cattle dying more frequently of cancer? Is there an association with IVF?
- How many older cows are dying of cancer? How would we know?
- Is there a link between the cancer and the very early age that heifers receive IVF treatment?
- What age group or sub-section of the bovine population is at the least risk of death due to cancer?
In human medicine it has been reported by Dr Linda Giudice, President-Elect of the American Society of Reproductive Medicine, that: “The development of breast cancer is linked to oestrogen exposure and the longer one is exposed, the greater the risk.” Could this also be true in bovines?
THE BULLVINE BOTTOM LINE
As with any of the issues that face the dairy industry, the first step is recognizing the need. The next step is finding an able and willing leader. Of course, that means you can’t start with denial because that helps no one. It’s okay to say, “This is going to be difficult.” And it’s productive to point out, “We don’t know all, or even any, of the answers yet.” If we tell it like it is, we may not know where we are going but at least we are not standing still.