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Vasectomy-associated prostate cancer risk is very, very small

The Daily Mail recently reported that ‘Men who have the snip increase the risk of suffering fatal prostate cancer’, claiming recent research as a back-up for these claims. However, while the increase in risk was found to be significant, it was smaller in medical terms.

The newspaper reported about a US study which followed 49,405 men over 24 years – a quarter of whom had had a vasectomy. It compared the risk of prostate cancer in men who had had a vasectomy to those who hasn’t. During the 24 years of the study, 12.4% of those who had had a vasectomy later when on to develop prostate cancer, compared to the 12.1% who didn’t.

The Daily Mail also claimed that vasectomies were associated with a 19% increased risk of prostate cancer which later spread to other organs (became metastatic) or that caused death. However, it is important to note that these increases in relative risk to a small increase in terms of absolute risk – a 0.3% absolute difference in incidence rate.

The study in question, which was carried out by researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard by the University of Massachusetts Medical School, was recently published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Clinical Oncology.

The researchers have added that the increase in the number of people was only ‘modest’ and that ‘more studies of the possible link between the vasectomy process and the prostate cancer are needed’.

“I don’t think we should conclude from this that people shouldn’t get vasectomies because they could develop prostate cancer, because the absolute risk doesn’t go up too much,” said study researcher Kathy Wilson, an epidemiologist at the Harvard School of Public Health, “But it does show that there is something going on.”

Past studies have linked prostate cancer with vasectomies, but no solid associations have been established because of confounding factors in the research, Wilson said. It could be that it only appears that men with vasectomies are more likely to develop prostate cancer because these men undergo more PSA screenings to test for cancer, or medical check-ups.

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