There are lots of perfectly-valid reasons why a man might be hesitant to undergo a vasectomy: maybe he’s afraid of making such a permanent decision, or just feels a little squeamish about surgery down there. Those are some pretty big what-ifs to wrap your brain around.
But here’s a concern that can be crossed off the list of things to worry about when getting a vasectomy: A new study has found that the procedure would not increase your chances of developing prostate cancer in the future.
Earlier studies showed a link between vasectomies and prostate cancer
Over the last 25 years, there has been a number of studies that looked at a potential link between vasectomies and prostate cancer—which is the most common form of cancer in men after non-melanoma skin cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. But the results of those studies were inconsistent, with some finding a correlation between the sterility procedure and prostate cancer and other studies unable to make the connection. Even as recently as 2014, a large Harvard study of health professionals found a small increased risk in men with vasectomies (often decades after the procedure), but a large 2016 study from the American Cancer Society did not.
According to Glickman Urologic & Kidney Institute Chairman Eric A. Klein, MD, of the Cleveland Clinic, a lot of the inconsistencies were caused by the limited size and scope of those earlier studies, which involved either smaller groups of patients, similar patient populations, or single institutions. And it resulted in a whole lot of confusion among men!
“While the risk in those studies was only slightly elevated, it made some men who were interested in vasectomy rethink their choice,” says Klein.
The truth is, despite its almost 100 percent rate of effectiveness for preventing pregnancy, only 8 to 12 percent of married couples in the U.S. choose vasectomy as their preferred method of birth control.
New study is a game-changer for those considering a vasectomy
Thanks to a 2017 study, researchers with the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota found there is no increased risk of developing or dying from prostate cancer if you’ve had a vasectomy. Researchers looked through 53 studies with a combined 15 million men who had a vasectomy and were then followed for up to 24 years. Scientists had speculated that reported links between vasectomy and prostate cancer in earlier studies could have more to with screening results and early detection than with vasectomy itself.
“This is a very strong analysis that should lay those fears to rest, once and for all,” says Klein. “The fact that this study found no increased risk of prostate cancer from prior vasectomy should set everyone’s mind at ease.”
If you do choose to go ahead with a vasectomy, keep in mind sterility is not immediate and takes about three months to kick in. To determine whether it’s been successful in stopping sperm from entering the ejaculate, use SpermCheck—an over-the-counter kit—to monitor your sperm count and avoid the risk of an unwanted pregnancy.
So what can increase risk of prostate cancer?
While you’ve avoided running the risk of developing prostate cancer by getting a vasectomy, there are a number of other factors that have been shown to increase the risk of prostate cancer, including:
- Age: Prostate cancer risks increase with age, with the average age at diagnosis at around 66, according to American Cancer Society
- Family history: Having a brother or father with the disease doubles the risk
- Race: Black men are 60 percent more likely to develop it than white men, and
more than twice as likely to die from it
Deciding to opt for a vasectomy as a permanent form of birth control is a huge decision, with a lot of factors to take into account. Luckily, you can cross prostate cancer off your list of things to worry about when weighing your vasectomy options.