Large Study Finds No Link Between Vasectomy and Prostate Cancer Risk

A large study from the American Cancer Society adds to the evidence that vasectomy does not meaningfully increase prostate cancer risk.

Lead author Eric Jacobs, PhD, was intrigued when a large study came out in 2014 that found a small increase in fatal prostate cancer among men who had vasectomy, a surgical form of male birth control that prevents the release of sperm. Hundreds of thousands of men get this minor procedure every year in the US, and most other studies have found that it does not increase prostate cancer risk. Jacobs, the strategic director of pharmacoepidemiology at the American Cancer Society, wanted to investigate the issue further.

“Vasectomy is an inexpensive, very effective method of long-term birth control. If there isn’t an increase in the risk of prostate cancer, then we wouldn’t want that concern to discourage anybody from getting a vasectomy. We wanted to help inform this decision,” Jacobs says.

He and fellow Society epidemiologists used data collected from 1982 to 2012 from Cancer Prevention Study II (CPS-II), a prospective mortality study of approximately 1.2 million Americans. (In plain English: In 1982 the study recruited men and women who did not have cancer, and has followed their health behaviors and outcomes for more than three decades.) Researchers examined the association between vasectomy and prostate cancer deaths among 363,726 men in CPS-II. They also examined the association between vasectomy and prostate cancer incidence (how many people got it) among 66,542 men in a subgroup called the CPS-II Nutrition Cohort.

The study, which was published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, found no evidence to suggest that vasectomy increases the risk of prostate cancer overall, nor that it increases the risk of high-grade prostate cancer, the kind more likely to be lethal. The study also found that vasectomy did not increase the risk of dying from prostate cancer. Yet Jacobs points out that no single study, not even one this large, is the final word. So what does that mean for men?

“Only a small increase was found in the earlier [2014] study and no increase was found in ours, so if I were considering a vasectomy I wouldn’t be too worried about prostate cancer,” Jacobs says. “For men who want to do something to lower their risk of fatal prostate cancer, there are two things that they can do: maintain a healthy weight and quit smoking. Smoking and obesity have consistently been linked with higher risk of fatal prostate cancer.”

 

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