vasectomy

A comprehensive analysis of existing studies challenges the purported link between a vasectomy and the risk for testicular cancer.

Some individuals live in fear of developing cancer and play close attention to any reported possible risk factors.  When reports are backed up by scientific studies or published research, the anxiety levels can be magnified, further complicating health care decisions.

A recent example is a purported link between vasectomies and testicular cancer, which have been reported as discovered by research findings. There are reports claiming that a significant number of patients who have undergone a vasectomy develop testicular cancer later on in life.  Indeed, there has been an increase in cases of testicular cancer that many believe corresponds to an increase in the number of vasectomies.  Vasectomies have been safely done for over a century, however, if this is true, then it not only worries all those who have undergone the procedure, it can scare off those thinking of having it done.  It is imperative, therefore, that the research determines if a causal relationship truly exists.

A review of the research

The research thus far has been inconclusive, with many studies indicating that there is a link, and many others finding no association. When faced with the challenge of sifting through numerous research articles, scientists conduct a systematic review of all the existing literature on a topic and subject them to an evaluation process that vets how the studies were conducted, and how the results stack up against more stringent criteria.  When research undergoes this process, called a meta-analysis, the results can show if the conclusions are indeed valid.

To determine if there is indeed a link between vasectomies and testicular cancer, Chinese researchers performed a meta-analysis of the available studies on the topic.  They took eight published reports, involving close to 3,000 documented cases of testicular cancer from 1980 to 2017, and assessed the outcomes. The analysis was attempting to establish any relationship between having a vasectomy and an increased risk of developing testicular cancer.

A vasectomy does not increase the risk of cancer

In their findings, published in the journal PLoS ONE in March 2018, they could not find any association between vasectomies and testicular cancer. How do we explain the increased numbers?  The researchers propose that there are other mechanisms that may have accounted for this. Because of its insidious nature, testicular cancer is difficult to detect unless researchers are specifically investigated for it, and patients who have undergone vasectomies are more aware and proactive in looking for and seeking assistance for any abnormality.  Furthermore, the exact reasons why some males develop testicular cancer are still unknown, and malignancies do develop independently of whether vasectomies were done or not.

Those contemplating vasectomies already contend with numerous issues in making a difficult decision to go through with the procedure, and raising the spectre of cancer does not help. No single research study is considered definitive proof, instead, these studies must be acknowledged in the greater sphere of all of the available evidence. Just because it is published it does not mean that the results are automatically accurate. When scientists can validate, or in this case invalidate, these concerns that have ironically been raised by scientific papers or research, it goes a long way in helping patients make informed choices with regards to their health care.

Written by Jay Martin, M.D.

Reference: Duang, et al. “Association between vasectomy and risk of testicular cancer:  A systematic review and meta-analysis”.  PLoS ONE 13(3): e0194606. https://doi.org/10.137/journal/pone.0194606.

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