Current clinical guidelines state there is no strong evidence to link vasectomy with an increased risk of prostate cancer. But the most recent research has once again called the matter into question.

A vasectomy is a surgery that cuts off the vas deferens, the small tubes that carry sperm from your testicles to your urethra to become part of semen when you ejaculate.

You might be considering a vasectomy for several reasons, especially if you’re certain you don’t want children in your future and want to rely on a proven method of birth control.

As with any surgical procedure, a vasectomy comes with some minor risks. You may have heard that a vasectomy may increase your risk of prostate cancer. This has been a matter of great debate among scientists.

Current clinical guidelines state there is no evidence linking vasectomy to prostate cancer. But new research from 2021 has once again raised the issue. Some studies have shown a small increase in risk.

Read on to learn more about what the research says about the link between a vasectomy and prostate cancer. We’ll also cover other risk factors and what you can do to help prevent prostate cancer.

Language matters

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article uses the term “men” to reflect a term that has been historically used to gender people. It’s important to note that not everyone assigned male at birth identifies with the label “man.”

While we aim to create content that includes and reflects the diversity of our readers, specificity is key when reporting on research participants and clinical findings.

Unfortunately, the studies and surveys referenced in this article did not include data on, or include, participants who were transgender, nonbinary, gender nonconforming, genderqueer, agender, or genderless.

The American Urological Association (AUA) created its current guidelines around vasectomy in 2012. They analyzed nine major studies on the link between vasectomy and prostate cancer. The AUA concluded that men who had a vasectomy were at no greater risk of prostate cancer than men who did not have a vasectomy.

The AUA suggests that doctors do not need to discuss any risk of prostate cancer with people thinking about having a vasectomy.

In their 2016 guidelines, the Canadian Urological Association (CUA) states that doctors may choose to discuss the risk with their patients. But the CUA also agrees that there is no clear link between vasectomy and prostate cancer.

The most recent research on the link between a vasectomy and prostate cancer suggests no clear answer.

A 2017 review used a rigorous literature review method to select 53 studies published between 1990 and 2017. Altogether, the studies included more than 14.7 million participants. After careful analysis, researchers proposed two main findings:

  • There may be a slight but nearly insignificant link between vasectomy and any type of prostate cancer (from mild to severe).
  • There is no association between vasectomy and advanced prostate cancer.

So, this study suggests it’s unlikely that vasectomy causes prostate cancer. It also suggests that prostate cancer risk is not a reason to avoid a vasectomy if you seek one as a reliable birth control method.

But a 2021 review tells a slightly different story. Researchers used a similar method as the 2017 review to look at a large number of studies that included just under 17 million participants. Here’s what researchers found:

  • There is a strong link between vasectomy and all types of prostate cancer (from mild to severe).
  • There is no noticeable link between vasectomy and the risk of death from prostate cancer specifically.

So, while this study didn’t find that vasectomy increases your risk of death from prostate cancer, there may still be a possible link between vasectomy and prostate cancer.

A 2022 meta-analysis also found a very slight link, but researchers were more cautious in their conclusions than in the previous study. They found an increased risk of about 6%. They also found no link with advanced or fatal prostate cancer.

A 2020 study followed over 2 million Danish men born between 1937 and 1996 for 38 years. Researchers looked at:

  • when they got their vasectomy
  • how often they visited the doctor
  • their level of wealth
  • the severity of their prostate cancer (if diagnosed)

This study also suggests that getting a vasectomy was linked to a slightly higher risk of prostate cancer compared with not getting a vasectomy. The risk remained for over 30 years after the procedure.

While this research suggests a slightly increased risk of prostate cancer, no human study has yet shown a direct causal link.

But a 2020 study involving mice may have found such a link. Researchers found that mice that underwent a vasectomy had increased expression of the ZKSCAN3 protein, which resulted in a high likelihood of prostate cancer. The study suggests this might be how vasectomy plays a role in the development of prostate cancer.

Still, researchers caution the results were in mice after 20 weeks, not in humans after more than 20 years. Human studies will be necessary to confirm any causal link.

Research summary

  • Recent research suggests vasectomy may cause a small increase in the risk of prostate cancer.
  • Vasectomy does not increase the risk of advanced prostate cancer or death from prostate cancer.
  • Whether the small increase in risk is clinically significant is a matter of debate.
  • Animal studies suggest that vasectomy may induce increased ZKSCAN3 expression, which may play a role in the development of prostate cancer.

Vasectomy reversal is a procedure that allows sperm to travel through the vas deferens again. This lets sperm into the semen you ejaculate and makes it possible for you to initiate a pregnancy again.

Some research has explored whether a vasectomy reversal has an effect on any supposed increased risk of prostate cancer due to a vasectomy.

Researchers in a 2018 study looked at the prostate cancer risk for around 9,700 men who got a vasectomy reversal and compared them to over 684,000 men who did not reverse their vasectomies.

Researchers found that getting a vasectomy reversal was not associated with any change in the risk of prostate cancer. But researchers also suggested that their findings showed a slight, nearly insignificant link between vasectomy and prostate cancer in the first place.

Prostate cancer and vasectomy are both very common in men. According to a 2015 United Nations report, about 1 in 10 U.S. males get a vasectomy. The American Cancer Society estimates that 1 in 8 U.S. males will receive a diagnosis of prostate cancer.

With two such common conditions, it’s tricky to find a definite link. Researchers would need to link the increased risk of prostate cancer to the vasectomy specifically, and not another risk factor.

But there’s no proven model to explain how a vasectomy might increase the risk of prostate cancer. Animal studies have suggested that vasectomy might affect the immune system or create a hormonal imbalance, or induce the expression of certain proteins. But these theories have not been supported in human studies.

Some research also suggests that men who get a vasectomy are more likely to screen for prostate cancer later in life. Those who screen are more likely to find prostate cancer. Many people have prostate cancer that never causes any symptoms, so it’s never detected.

Researchers and clinicians may also disagree on what is a significant link. Most of the research suggests a very small link, if any. Since many people may not even have symptoms, some researchers wonder whether the link is clinically significant.

It may be unclear whether vasectomy causes any meaningful increase in the risk of prostate cancer. But there are many other known risk factors for prostate cancer you should keep in mind. These include:

  • Age: You’re more likely to get prostate cancer after you turn 50. Most diagnoses occur in people over 65 years old.
  • Race: African American men are more likely to receive a diagnosis of prostate cancer than people from other racial or ethnic groups.
  • Genetics: You’re more likely to get prostate cancer if a first-degree family member (like a father, brother, or son) has the diagnosis. Genetics plays a role in about 10% of prostate cancer cases.
  • Diet: There may be a link between eating a lot of dairy products or calcium and an increased risk of prostate cancer.

It’s impossible to completely prevent any cancer. But there are many things you can do to help reduce your risk of prostate cancer. You can:

Things to consider before a vasectomy

A vasectomy is a highly reliable method of birth control for people with a penis.

But even though it is reversible, you should consider the impacts of vasectomy beyond the possible association with prostate cancer:

  • Do you have any doubts that you may want biological children in the future?
  • Does your current partner agree with not having biological children now or in the future?
  • Are you open to having another procedure to get it reversed (if necessary)?
  • Are you willing to wait a week or two to have sex or masturbate after the procedure?

It takes about a month or two before a vasectomy significantly lowers the risk of pregnancy. You’ll need to continue to use other forms of contraception for about 6 to 8 weeks after your vasectomy. It usually takes this long to show two consecutive negative sperm counts.

Also, keep in mind that there’s no link between a vasectomy and changes in your sexual function. Your sex life won’t change as a result of a vasectomy.

There will be no perceptible change in your semen volume or appearance after a vasectomy. The only thing missing from the semen will be sperm.

A vasectomy is a safe and reliable method of birth control.

Clinical guidelines suggest that vasectomy does not increase the risk of prostate cancer. But recent research has made the issue less clear. It’s even less clear whether any slight link may be clinically important.

Still, it’s best to be aware of the possible link between the two before you decide to get a vasectomy, especially if you are at high risk of prostate cancer.