UK doctors call for updated information on vasectomies

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Thursday 16th March 2023

Doctors in the UK have called for information about vasectomies to be updated to reflect modern safety standards. A group of doctors from the Association of Surgeons of Primary Care has recently completed a review of the procedure, which involved analysing data linked to 94,000 vasectomies. The doctors found that the procedure is much safer than reports suggest and have presented the findings of the review at a recent conference in Milan.

The research team discovered that severe side effects and complications were incredibly rare. The vast majority of people experienced very minor symptoms, including localised swelling and mild post-operative pain. During the study period, researchers asked participants to answer survey questions on the day of the procedure and complete a questionnaire four months after surgery. The findings revealed that 0.2% of men had experience of chronic scrotal pain. This equates to 1 in every 1,000 people. Patient leaflets commonly given to men before the procedure suggest that this complication can affect around 1 in 20 people. Patient information also indicates that up to 10% of people experience post-surgery infections or haematoma in the scrotum. The doctors found that the figures were closer to 1% and just under 2% respectively.

Julian Peacock, senior registrar at Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, headed the research team. He said that some of the information currently used in patient leaflets dates back to the 1980s and called for updates to ensure that people have access to accurate data. He added that he hopes that the research will be used to revamp documents given to patients and update guidelines used as part of pre-procedure consultations and counselling.

A vasectomy is a surgical procedure, which is usually carried out under local anaesthetic. It is often used as a contraceptive method and works by preventing sperm from swimming down the tubes that transport sperm from the testicles to the penis. The tubes are either cut, sealed or blocked to prevent conception. A vasectomy is also known as male sterilisation.

Vasectomies are reversible, but they are not always successful and the reversal procedure may not always be available on the NHS. Doctors advise people to think carefully about having the procedure before they make a decision. For many couples or individuals who don’t want to have children or don’t want any more children, a vasectomy is a very effective long-term contraceptive. It can offer an alternative to women using methods, such as the pill, a coil or a contraceptive injection or implant. TV and radio presenter and member of the dance group Diversity, Jordan Banjo, recently went viral on social media after posting a clip of himself walking very gingerly after having a vasectomy. He captioned the post, ‘It’s a tender morning’ but later revealed in interviews that the procedure had gone well and any tenderness and minor pain had subsided. He also admitted that he had made the decision to have the procedure after talking to his wife, Naomi, who is pregnant with the couple’s third child. Jordan was a young patient at the age of 30 but said that he was clear that it was the right choice for him and Naomi. 

The procedure only takes around 15 minutes and it can be done as a day case, with patients able to leave hospital shortly after. Doctors advise up to 48 hours of rest and at least a week off intensive exercise and activities like lifting. Dr Sophie Nicholls, from the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare, said that it was very helpful to have up-to-date, accurate information about the safety of the procedure and the risk of side effects and complications. Patients should be able to make decisions about the future based on reliable data. Some leaflets don’t have recent statistics and many people who have the procedure are surprised by how simple and quick it is and how short the recovery period lasts.