Fear of a link between prostate cancer and vasectomies erupted in 1993 when a report from the Harvard Health Professionals Follow-up Study posited that there was an increased incidence of prostate cancer in men who had undergone a vasectomy, a procedure to cut and seal the vas deferens. On July 7, 2014, the Journal of Clinical Oncology also published a report with results from a similar study that suggested a link between vasectomies and prostate cancer risk.
However, a 2016 study by American Society of Clinical Oncology has refuted the claims that a vasectomy can increase the risk of prostate cancer. The long-term, large-scale study offers the most complete picture of the link between the procedure and the condition, and researchers concluded that there is no significant correlation.
The 1993 Prostate Cancer Study
A large sample size of 37,800 men who had not had a vasectomy and 10,055 who had undergone the procedure made up the study. Ordinarily, such a large sample size lends significant credibility to a study, but skeptics still found holes in the conditions of the research, including the lack of accountability for the incidence of post-operative follow-up for men who had undergone a vasectomy.
The constant follow-up care could increase the chance that prostate cancer is detected and diagnosed, which could easily skew data in a biased direction. Additionally, of the large sample, only 300 men were actually diagnosed with prostate cancer, which is not well outside the range of an ordinary rate of prostate cancer.
The data still affected the public, scaring a large number of men away from undergoing a vasectomy. The procedure is still consistently undergone at a much lower rate than female tubal ligation, which is more invasive and expensive and runs a higher risk of post-operative complication.
The 2014 Prostate Cancer Study
Harvard performed a direct follow-up to their study on a longer timeline and greater scale in 2014. They attempted to eliminate bias, especially in answer to those concerns that had been raised when the original study was peer reviewed.
The results showed a small but technically significant rise in the incidence of prostate cancer in men who had undergone a vasectomy, but they were still unable to eliminate all biases, and the data remained questionable. Authors of the study advised men and couples who are considering a vasectomy to weight the benefits and risks before making major decisions.
Patients should speak thoroughly with their partner and their doctors in order to weight the risks and benefits of getting a vasectomy.
The 2016 Long-Term Vasectomy and Prostate Cancer Study
Eric. J. Jacobs and his research team sought to examine in detail the association between vasectomy and prostate cancer mortality. They chose a sample size of 363,726 men and followed their prostate health from 1982 to 2012. They also examined the incidence of prostate cancer in men who had undergone vasectomy with 66,542 men from 1992 to 2011. Their large sample size and lack of bias offered much greater credibility to their research.
The team concluded that there was no association between prostate cancer mortality and vasectomy, nor was there an association between prostate cancer incidence and vasectomy.
Despite the results, there are still risks involved with undergoing a vasectomy, including the possibility of complications that could lead to permanent damage or death. If you're considering a vasectomy, talk to your partner and doctor about what you will get out of the procedure and what you'll be putting at risk, then make an informed decision.