OCT 13, 2017 3:24 PM PDT

Vasectomy and Prostate Cancer Link Debunked

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham

Image credit: Pixabay.com

The link between vasectomies and prostate cancer is officially debunked. In a huge study of over 3 million men, scientists conclude that fears over vasectomy-induced prostate cancer are completely unfounded.

A vasectomy is a surgical male sterilization procedure, involving the cutting and sealing of the vas deferens. Consequently, sperm is prevented from entering the urethra and fertilizing an egg during sex.

While vasectomies are one of the most reliable methods of contraception – in fact, it is the most effective form of contraception for men – its adoption rate is surprisingly low. In the US, only 8 to 12 percent of men choose this option over other less reliable methods. Globally, vasectomies make up just 3 percent of contraception for married couples.

In addition to anxiety surrounding the permanence of the procedure, some men were also concerned about an increased risk in prostate cancer due to reports that surfaced in the 1980s that implicated vasectomies. The fears seemed to worsen when a study, published in 2014, found a small increase in fatal prostate cancer in men who received vasectomies. Despite numerous other studies that contradicted the findings, these fears persisted.

To definitively put the fears to rest, researchers embarked on a large-scale meta-analysis study involving over 3 million men.

“Vasectomy is an inexpensive, very effective method of long-term birth control. If there isn’t an increase in the risk of prostate cancer, then we wouldn’t want that concern to discourage anybody from getting a vasectomy. We wanted to help inform this decision,” said Dr. Eric Jacobs, the strategic director of pharmacoepidemiology at the American Cancer Society.

After factoring in study quality and other considerations, the authors firmly concluded “no association between vasectomy and high-grade, advanced-stage, or fatal prostate cancer."

“This is a very strong analysis that should lay those fears to rest, once and for all,” said Glickman Urologic & Kidney Institute Chairman Eric A. Klein, MD. “This study, involving 3 million patients, is the largest ever conducted. It found no meaningful increased risk of prostate cancer for men who have had a vasectomy.”

Of note, there is no biological explanation for why vasectomy and prostate cancer could be linked. Furthermore, it’s important to remember that just because two events are correlated does not necessarily mean one event caused the other. In this case, men who get vasectomies may get prostate cancer screenings more often than men who don’t have vasectomies. Consequently, more prostate cancer diagnoses in men with vasectomies may be due to the increased number of screenings that this population received.

"The fact that this study found no increased risk of prostate cancer from prior vasectomy should set everyone's mind at ease," Klein added.

“For men who want to do something to lower their risk of fatal prostate cancer, there are two things that they can do: maintain a healthy weight and quit smoking. Smoking and obesity have consistently been linked with higher risk of fatal prostate cancer,” concluded Dr. Jacobs.

Additional sources: American Cancer Society, Cleveland Clinic

About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
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