Having a vasectomy doesn’t increase a man’s risk of developing prostate cancer or dying from it, a U.S. study suggests.
Previous research has been mixed about the risk of prostate cancer associated with vasectomy, a common form of long-term birth control that involves snipping or blocking tubes that transport sperm out of the testicles.
“Our study provides some reassurance that having a vasectomy is unlikely to meaningfully increase risk of developing any type of prostate cancer, including fatal prostate cancer,” said lead study author Eric Jacobs, a researcher at the American Cancer Society in Atlanta.
Two things that do make prostate cancer more likely are smoking and obesity, Jacobs said by email.
“Men who want to lower their risk of fatal prostate cancer should focus on maintaining a healthy weight and, if they smoke, quitting smoking,” Jacobs said.
Prostate cancer is the second most common type of malignancy among men in the U.S., behind melanoma.
While vasectomy isn’t the primary form of birth control for most couples, about 5 percent of women of reproductive age in the U.S. say this is the method they use to prevent pregnancy, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Men who undergo this sterilization procedure often worry about whether it will negatively impact their sex life or fail to prevent pregnancy.
Concerns about a cancer risk spiked after a large 2014 study linked vasectomies to a 10 percent greater risk of developing prostate tumors, as well as a 20 percent higher risk of fatal prostate cancer, Jacobs and colleagues note in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.
But the overall risk of prostate cancer is still quite low, said Jennifer Rider, a public health researcher at Boston University and Harvard University who was an author on the 2014 study.
“Even a 20 percent increase in the risk of lethal disease – if that is in fact the true relative risk – is still quite small in absolute terms,” Rider said by email. “Given that the benefits of vasectomy as an effective method of birth control are well established, vasectomy remains an important contraceptive option.”