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Vasectomy's Link to Prostate Cancer Debunked

Study finds no risk even years after procedure

TUESDAY, June 18, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- A new study should put to rest any worries that men who get a vasectomy find themselves at a greater risk for prostate cancer.

The latest research says that the procedure won't hurt your prostate health even a generation after you have it.

"The results are very reassuring," said Dr. Steven Kaufman, a medical officer at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development who oversaw the study.

In the early 1990s, some researchers said they had discovered a link between vasectomies and a higher rate of prostate cancer.

The reason for the connection wasn't clear. Vasectomies don't directly affect the prostate gland, which helps create semen. Instead, in a vasectomy, a doctor snips the vas deferens, the tube that carries sperm to the urethra, and then seals off the two ends using one of several methods. Men are able to ejaculate after the operation but no sperm appear in their semen.

UrologyChannel.com estimates that 500,000 vasectomies are performed in the United States each year. Later studies found no link between vasectomies and prostate cancer.

In the newest study, researchers tackled the issue in New Zealand, which has one of the world's highest vasectomy rates, well above that in the U.S. The small country also tracks every cancer case in a national registry.

"They're in an excellent position to find an association if it existed," Kaufman said.

Researchers at the Dunedin and Wellington Schools of Medicine compared 923 men with recent prostate cancer diagnoses to 1,224 randomly selected men in the same age group (40-74) who didn't have cancer. Researchers interviewed the men from 1997 to 1999.

The findings appear in tomorrow's issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

No link between vasectomies and prostate cancer was found, even when researchers adjusted their figures to account for income, geographic region, religious affiliation, and family history of prostate cancer. Vasectomies didn't appear to cause any prostate problems even 25 years after the procedure -- and 38 percent of the men in this study had the procedure done that long ago.

The finding "strongly suggests that there is no increased risk of prostate cancer after this procedure," the authors conclude.

"Urologists have been screening men who had vasectomies more carefully than men who had not had vasectomies," Kaufman said. "This and other studies would support the argument that there's no need to do that."

But researchers still aren't sure what men should do to avoid prostate cancer in the first place. Race is a major factor -- black men are more likely to get the disease than whites -- but as Kaufman points out, "you can't do anything about it."

Family history of prostate cancer can also raise a man's risk, and a diet high in fat may be another factor, he said.

What To Do

Learn about vasectomies from this Emory University fact sheet. The Urology Channel offers information on vasectomy and vasectomy reversals, including details of the different types of surgeries available for the latter.

SOURCES: Steven Kaufman, M.D., M.S., medical officer, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, Bethesda, Md.; June 19, 2002 Journal of the American Medical Association
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