I’ve been thinking about getting a vasectomy, but a friend says that this can increase my risk of developing prostate cancer. Is this true?
Kevin R. Loughlin, M.D., M.B.A., director of Urologic Research at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, says:
Concern that getting a vasectomy could lead to prostate cancer flared in 1993 when the Harvard Health Professionals Follow-up Study reported that men who had undergone vasectomies were about one-and-a-half times more likely to develop prostate cancer than men who had not had the operation. The study was careful and large, including 10,055 men who’d had vasectomies and 37,800 who had not. Still, many experts were skeptical, pointing out that there were only 300 newly diagnosed cases of prostate cancer in the entire group. Some also noted that men who had undergone vasectomy were more likely to be under the care of a urologist and undergo tests leading to the diagnosis of early, clinically silent prostate cancer.
Indeed, many studies since 1993 have failed to find a link between a vasectomy and prostate cancer, and scientists have been unable to identify a biologically plausible reason why vasectomy might increase a man’s cancer risk. At present, most authorities, including the National Cancer Institute and the American Urological Association, agree that vasectomy does not increase the risk of prostate cancer.
You should still consider your options carefully. A vasectomy will make you unable to father children (see illustration below). Although a vasectomy can be reversed, the procedure is expensive and not always successful at restoring fertility. If you have even the slightest doubt about ending your chances for future fatherhood, I’d encourage you to hold off on the vasectomy and use another form of birth control.
During a vasectomy, a doctor will cut the vas deferens, the tube that transports sperm from the epididymis to the seminal vesicles, through small incisions in the scrotum. This keeps sperm from entering semen and prevents conception. The testicles continue to produce sperm, but the sperm are absorbed by the body. Semen is still ejaculated, but it contains no sperm.
Originally published June 2009; last reviewed April 7, 2011.