Vasectomies are far safer than previously believed, according to a new study of more than 90,000 operations.
Men who undergo the snip are much less likely to suffer complications than expected, say doctors who reviewed the results of procedures performed in UK over 15 years.
The study, led by researchers from Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, shows that existing leaflets explaining the potential complications to patients are based on outdated figures.
The team said their findings show that vasectomy is a “very reliable and safe” contraception method.
Around 11,000 vasectomy ops are performed every year in the UK, the majority in primary care settings by specialist GPs.
The Association of Surgeons of Primary Care, led by Dr. Gareth James, gathered data from 94,082 vasectomies conducted between 2006 and 2021, mostly through patient questionnaires; one was completed on the day of surgery, and the second was sent to patients four months after undergoing the op.
More than four out of five patients – around 77,000 – filled out the initial questionnaire, and just under 36,500 patients completed the second.
Julian Peacock, a senior registrar at Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, headed the review with consultant urological surgeon John Henderson.
Peacock said: “This large dataset had never been independently analyzed, and doing so has enabled us to update the standard complication rates, some of which dated back to the 1980s.”
For example, he said one of the most significant complications of a vasectomy is chronic scrotal pain, which is quoted as affecting “up to five per cent of all patients” in the patient information leaflet about vasectomies published by the British Association of Urological Surgeons (BAUS).
Reviewing the more recent data, the team found that the rate was in fact as low as 0.12 percent of patients.
Peacock said: “The chances of chronic scrotal pain could be very off-putting, especially as it’s a difficult condition to manage.
“So we hope that this more up-to-date rate gives a better picture of the small chance of this happening.”
The chances of post-op infection, and of hematoma – when blood forms a clot in the scrotal tissue – were also reviewed.
The rates of infection – taken as any case or condition that had been treated with antibiotics – are quoted as two per cent to 10 per cent of patients in the BAUS statistics, but the team found it was closer to 1.3 percent.
Hematoma rates in patients are quoted at two per cent to 10 per cent in BAUS statistics, but the updated information suggested it could be as low as 1.4 per cent.
Vasectomy failure rates were available for more than 70,000 patients.
The findings showed that the early failure rate – defined as finding sperm capable of motion at three months – was very slightly higher than previously quoted, occurring in 360 patients (0.5 percent) compared to the BAUS figure of 0.4 percent.
Late failure – which occurs when the severed ends of the vas deferens join up – occurred in just 10 patients – or 0.014 percent compared to BAUS figure of 0.05 percent.
Peacock added: “Vasectomy is a very reliable and safe contraception method.
“These figures might encourage more men to undergo the procedure, so we hope our research will be incorporated into the guidelines that provide information for pre-vasectomy counseling and leaflets. “
The findings are due to be presented at the European Association of Urology (EAU) Congress in Milan, Italy.
Dr. Marij Dinkelman-Smit, of the EAU, welcomed the findings.
“Although other countries’ standard information may be more up-to-date, nevertheless, it is very useful for us as urologists to see large datasets of patient perspectives on this frequent procedure,” said Dinkelman-Smit, an assistant professor of urology at Erasmus University Medical Centre in Holland.
“As specialists, we mainly see the problems that arise from vasectomies, so it’s relevant for us to fill in the complete picture.”
Produced in association with SWNS Talker