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Vasectomies Don't Increase Risk of Prostate Cancer

December 20, 2016

In 2014, a study by Harvard’s School of Public Health raised alarms when it suggested that vasectomies may slightly increase the prostate cancer risk, but a new study that encompasses a larger data set suggests this idea may be false.

The study, conducted by American Cancer Society epidemiologists and published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, involved a review of data from more than 363,000 men age 40 and older, among whom more than 7,400 died from prostate cancer over a 30-year follow up period from 1982 to 2012. 42,000 men in this group had undergone a vasectomy. Researchers also examined the association between vasectomy and prostate cancer in more than 66,000 men, about 9,100 of whom were diagnosed with prostate cancer during a nearly 20-year follow up period.

Across both groups, researchers discovered no link between vasectomies and an increased risk of prostate cancer.

The results of the American Cancer Society study contradict a 2014 Harvard study, the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, that found a link between vasectomies and an increased rate for prostate cancer and a stronger risk for advanced disease. That study found that men who had a vasectomy at a younger age had the greatest risk for advanced disease.

The Harvard study, which involved a review of more than 800 prostate cancer deaths, found that the risk for prostate cancer increased even among men who underwent regular PSA screening, which measures levels of a prostate-specific antigen (PSA), a type of protein in the prostate gland. Men with prostate cancer often have elevated PSA levels.

The Harvard study didn’t explain why there was an increased risk, but some experts have previously suggested that changes in the immune system, abnormal cell growth and hormonal changes may be underlying causes. However, research hasn’t supported any of these ideas. If there is a link between vasectomies and prostate cancer, it may be because men who have undergone this birth control procedure — which blocks the tubes that transport sperm — are more likely to be under a doctor’s care. If a urologist regularly sees these men, then it’s more likely their doctor may suggest tests that could lead to an early diagnosis.  

In 2014, the Harvard study was the largest of its kind but the American Cancer Society study evaluated a far larger data set. Prostate cancer, which will affect more than 180,000 men this year, is typically a slow-growing cancer. Men diagnosed early can undergo active monitoring or choose to undergo radiation therapy or prostate removal if there’s a risk the cancer will spread.

There’s no scientific evidence that supports a link between vasectomy and prostate cancer. Lifestyle changes, including regular diet and exercise, may be more impactful to slow the development of this cancer. If you’re considering a vasectomy but are worried about the risks, the fear of getting prostate cancer shouldn’t be part of your decision-making process because current research strongly suggests there’s no connection between vasectomy and this disease.