Vasectomy increases prostate cancer risk

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According to a recent study, men who have undergone a vasectomy are at higher risk of developing an aggressive form of prostate cancer.

Analysis of the medical records of 50000 males by Harvard scientists indicated that these men were 10% more at risk of being diagnosed with the cancer.

The study indicated a much stronger link with serious forms of the disease, with an increase of 20% in men who have had a vasectomy. The risks appeared to be highest among those males who underwent the procedure before they reached the age of 38.

Cancer charities have voiced their concern and are urging doctors to discuss these risks with men who are considering the procedure.

The risk of developing the most dangerous forms of the cancer is rare. Over the period of 24 years of the study, 1.6% of males developed prostate cancer which was lethal. With a 20% increase, that figure would be below 2%.

A co-author of the study, from Harvard School of Public Health, Kathy Wilson, said they had no clarity on how a vasectomy is able to raise the risk of developing prostate cancer, but one possibility is that the procedure may be responsible for a change in the protein composition of the seminal fluid which is produced in the prostate. She said that the underlying reasons for this are not known and more experimental and clinical studies are required.

In excess of 40000 males are diagnosed annually with the most common cancer in the UK for males, prostate cancer. During 2011, almost 11000 males died from the disease in the UK.

The team from Harvard analysed the medical records related to 49405 males from 1986 to 2010, a period of 24 years. During that period, 6023 males received a prostate cancer diagnosis and 811 died due to the disease. Of those who participated in the study, 25% had had a vasectomy.

Although undergoing a vasectomy did not provide a reliable chance of developing low-grade prostate cancer, it was found that 19% of the males were placed at greater risk of lethal prostate cancer, and were 20% more at risk of being diagnosed with advanced disease than other males.

During the time period of the study, 16 out of 1000 men developed lethal prostate cancer. When considering a 20% increase due to vasectomy, this figure would be increased to about 19 in 1000.

This particular study has succeeded in eliminating biases from previous studies, such as the habit of males who have undergone vasectomies to have more medical checkups.

Cancer Research UK’s Malcolm Mason, said that the study has shown an important factor regarding the added risk of developing cancer after undergoing a vasectomy being quite small, however the few men who develop the disease may develop an aggressive form.

He said that vasectomy is an important contraception option, but the information revealed by the study should be considered by males prior to opting for the procedure. He added that future research should do a combined analysis, including this study and others which are similar, and if the results are confirmed, more research will have to be done to determine why vasectomy appears to increase the risk of prostate cancer.

Image Credit: Tony Alter

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