How is vasectomy done without a scalpel?

No-scalpel vasectomy instruments, used in China since the mid-70’s and introduced into the United States in 1989, are simply a very pointed haemostat, used initially to make a tiny opening into anaesthetised skin of the scrotal wall, and a ring clamp, used initially to secure each vas tube in turn beneath this opening. The pointed haemostat is then used to spread all layers (the vas sheath) down to the vas tube itself and to then deliver a small loop of the vas through the opening as the ring clamp is released. In turn, the ring clamp is used to hold the vas, while the pointed haemostat spreads adherent tissue and blood vessels away from the vas under direct vision, so that the vas can then be divided with a fine surgical scissors and the upper end cauterised with a hand-held cautery unit so that it will seal closed.

How is vasectomy done without a needle?

Traditionally, a local anaesthetic has been injected into the skin and alongside each vas tube with a very fine needle, as small as diabetics use to inject themselves with insulin. One could feel a tiny poke in the skin, then a bit of a squeeze as the anaesthetic was applied to each vas tube. However, most people do not like needles of any size … especially there!!!
JetSpray® is a spray applicator which delivers a fine stream of liquid anaesthetic at a pressure great enough to penetrate the skin to a depth of about 3/16″, deep enough to envelop the vas tube held snugly beneath the skin. Each vas is positioned in turn beneath the very middle of the front scrotal wall and given two or three squirts. That numbs the skin and both vas tubes adequately for 99% of men. The other 1% (usually men who have thick skin or scarring due to prior surgical procedures in the area) will require a bit more anaesthetic, usually delivered with no pain at all because of the partial anaesthesia achieved with the JetSpray.
The spray penetrates to about 3/16″, enveloping the vas. For “techies,” the JetSpray is a rather simple but precisely machined device. A cocking lever lifts a piston (shaft) to a locked position, compressing a strong main spring and drawing anaesthetic from a fill chamber into a cylinder at the bottom of a head assembly. When a release button is pressed, the spring forces the piston down into the cylinder, ejecting the anaesthetic under high pressure through a tiny orifice at the end of an extended tip.

Is this a “laser” vasectomy?

Certainly not. The vas tubes are most easily and safely divided under direct vision with a fine surgical scissors. But the expression “LASER” has great popular appeal, and use of laser energy in the performance of a simple vasectomy serves no purpose but to play up to this popular appeal. Lasers have proven indispensable for certain types of retinal (eye) and skin procedures, and they offer an alternative, though not necessarily better, means for destroying tissue (prostate and certain tumors) and kidney stones. But a laser (like any other form of light) cannot pass through opaque tissue without burning a hole in it, so a laser cannot be magically directed at internal organs such as the vas tubes without an access opening in the same way that sound waves can be used to destroy kidney stones without an incision. “An Update on Laser Use in Urology” in the October 2003 issue of Contemporary Urology by MJ Manyak and JW Warner from George Washington University Medical Center in Washington, DC did not even mention vasectomy as a potential laser application. The authors maintained that with the CO2 lasers used in office environments, “use is typically limited to surface applications because CO2 laser energy is absorbed by water, resulting in a shallow depth of penetration (<0.1 mm). … Because the CO2 laser produces a plume that has the potential for vaporizing infectious viral particles, an appropriate fine mesh filtration mask must be used by all operating room personnel during all cutaneous procedures. Other drawbacks of the CO2 laser include poor coagulation of vessels with a diameter greater than 1.0 mm and development of oxidized char that impedes vaporization of underlying tissue.” So lasers play no role in a procedure as simple as vasectomy and introduce an unnecessary element of risk. A recent search revealed no articles in the medical literature advocating use of a laser with vasectomy.

How are the ends prevented from rejoining?

After the vas is divided, the lower end is allowed to slide back down into the sheath, while the upper end is held outside the sheath. A tiny haemoclip (the size of a grain of rice) is then used to close the empty portion of the sheath between the 2 ends. It would be like making a lengthwise opening in a wire’s insulation, reaching in and dividing the wire, lifting one cut end out through the insulation, then putting a clip on the empty portion of the insulation, thereby holding one end outside and one end inside, the insulation itself serving as a barrier between the two ends. Most haemoclips are made of titanium, a non-ferromagnetic metal used for many types of implanted medical devices such as dental implants, heart valves, and joint replacement.

Could haemoclips cause a problem?

Surgeons have used haemoclips for many years to occlude bleeding blood vessels during many operations in the abdomen and chest, sometimes over 50 clips in a single procedure. Haemoclips have been used by vasectomists for decades. In fact, during vasectomy reversal procedures, as many as 5 clips can be discovered on each side, clips of which the patient was unaware and which could not be felt by the surgeon before the reversal. Most haemoclips are made of medically inert titanium, the same metal used for dental implants, many artificial joints, and mechanical heart valves. Not ferromagnetic, titanium will not interfere with MRI studies and the small amounts used in haemoclips and dental implants do not set off metal detector alarms! Some men ask, “Why not just use suture?” Dr. Osman replies, “Yes, I could use a suture instead of a titanium clip, and that would be just as easy if I had 3 hands. The vas sheath is held closed with a haemostat (upper end inside sheath and lower end outside sheath) which I stabilize with my right hand as I apply the haemoclip with my left hand. It takes 2 hands to tie a suture. I could lay the haemostat down to free up both hands, but sometimes the tissue is fragile and is best handled very gingerly. I would be happy to give it a try for patients for whom avoiding the clips is very important. (In India, suture is always used because haemoclips are more expensive, labour in the form of assistants is very cheap, and patients don’t ask that no one be in the room except for the doctor, as we sometimes hear from more modest Irish.)”

How much pain or discomfort should I expect following vasectomy?

During 104 consecutive follow-up calls on the day after vasectomy, men were asked:

(1) if they had taken any non-prescription pain pills (Ibuprofen),

(2) how many times they had taken pain medication,

(3) whether they had taken the medication because they were uncomfortable or just as a precaution to prevent expected discomfort.

(Note: All men had received a small packet of 2 Ibuprofen pills in their “goody bags” following their vasectomies.)

Here are the results:

45% of men took no pain medication following their vasectomies, not even the Ibuprofen that was provided. They had so little discomfort that they saw no need to take anything.

15% of men took pain medication (the Ibuprofen that was provided as home supplies) one time “just in case”, that is, as a precaution to prevent expected discomfort, not because they needed it.

29% of men took pain medication one time for discomfort, then did not need any additional doses.

11% of men took pain medication more than one time (two or three times), though at least 4 of these 11 men said that they had taken it more to prevent expected pain than because they were actually having discomfort.

0% of men felt that they needed something stronger than Ibuprofen.

Is it important that a vasectomy be “open-ended”?

The expression “open-end” or “open-ended” refers to a vasectomy technique in which the lower (testicular) end of the vas is not occluded with a stitch, haemoclip, or electrocautery. The internet contains many web pages that laude the benefits of the open-end technique. The theory is that if the lower end is occluded, in effect “slamming the door” on the normal egress of sperm from below, there may be a sudden increase in pressure within the epididymis and the portion of the vas tube below (“upstream”) from the vasectomy site, potentially causing an increase in the level of inflammation normally required for the resorption of sperm. This exaggerated inflammatory response, so the theory goes, increases the likelihood of post-vasectomy discomfort and decreases the likelihood of reversal success, should the individual ever opt for vasectomy reversal in the future. After an open-ended vasectomy, a sperm granuloma may form at the vasectomy site with a transfer of the inflammatory sperm-resorption process to the vasectomy site, thereby sparing the upstream tubules (epididymis and vas) from this inflammation, decreasing the likelihood that they will become scarred and secondarily occluded, and enhancing the chances of reversal success. Dr. Osman performs open-ended vasectomies, and while there is some merit to this technique, the web pages lauding it are probably overstating the benefits.
First, not all open-ended vasectomies result in a sperm granuloma at the vasectomy site.
Second, some open-end vasectomy patients (about one in 50) will still develop post-vasectomy discomfort and tenderness of the epididymis. The likelihood of this occurring is lower with the open-end technique: 2% of patients as opposed to 6% of patients with the closed-end technique (Contraception 46(6):521-521, 1992). This “congestive epididymitis” usually responds quickly to an anti-inflammatory drug like Ibuprofen, but serves as proof that an open-end technique is not a sure way to avoid post-vasectomy epididymal inflammation.
Third, a vasectomy site granuloma can be just as tender as epididymal inflammation, though it too usually responds quickly to anti-inflammatory drugs.
Fourth, while reversal success rates may be better after open-end vasectomies, performance of this technique is no guarantee of reversal success and many men with closed-end vasectomies have undergone successful reversals.

In summary, while an open-end technique offers theoretical benefits, use of it is not a “standard of care” and the closed-end technique has worked well for years.

Are there any long-term health risks associated with vasectomy?

The February 17, 1993 issue of the Journal Of The American Medical Association contained 2 studies (by the same research group) that suggest that vasectomy was associated with a small increased risk of prostate cancer in their study groups (almost 30,000 patients in 1 study and almost 40,000 patients in the other study). Because the question was initially raised by 2 studies back in 1990, the World Health Organization convened a 1991 meeting of 23 international experts to review all research regarding vasectomy and prostate cancer. They concluded that there was no plausible biologic mechanism for a relationship between vasectomy and prostate cancer. Some medical researchers interpreted the small increased risk noted in the 1993 studies as a weak association that may be due to chance or bias. A systematic review of the medical literature in 1998 (Fertility & Sterility, 70: 191) further documented the lack of a significant relationship between vasectomy and prostate cancer. Additional convincing evidence of no relationship has been published in the Journal of Urology in June 1999 (161: 1848-1853), in the Journal of the American Medical Association in June 2002 (287:3110-3115), in the Journal of Urology in October 2002 (168: 1408-1411), and in Fertility and Sterility in November 2005 (84:1438-1443). Because the question of a relationship has been raised, however, the American Urologic Association recommends that men who have had vasectomy and are over 40 have an annual rectal exam and prostate cancer screening blood test (PSA). This is the same recommendation made by the AUA for all men of age 50-70.

The question of an association between vasectomy and subsequent cardiovascular disease was raised back in 1978 and 1980 by two studies which reported an increase in atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) in vasectomised laboratory monkeys. The last article listed above (Cancer and cardiovascular disease after vasectomy: an epidemiological database study. Fertility and Sterility 84:1438-1443, November 2005) provides an excellent bibliography of studies showing no association in humans as well as its authors’ own data comparing 24,773 vasectomised men with 159,480 non-vasectomised men as a control group. Their findings “strengthen the evidence that vasectomy is not followed by an increased risk of myocardial infarction [heart attack], coronary heart disease as a whole, or stroke. In particular, we add strong support to the evidence that there is no elevation of risk of cardiovascular disease in men after long periods after vasectomy.”

Are there any age restrictions?

Guidelines for sterilisation procedures require that the candidate “is at least 21 years old and appears mentally competent”. Because I do not wish to deviate from established guidelines, I will not provide vasectomy for a man less than 21 years old unless there are profound extenuating circumstances such as a hereditary disease or obvious inability to care for a child, as might be the case in someone with certain mental disabilities. Other vasectomy providers may follow a different or more restrictive set of guidelines, as is their prerogative.

Alternatives to vasectomy?

There are a number of alternatives to vasectomy:

1.) Barrier methods: you could wear a condom, your partner could use a diaphragm, or you could use both together.

2.) Spermicides: there are foams and creams that can be placed into the vagina before intercourse to kill sperms before they can fertilise your partners eggs. Spermicides can be used alone or in combination with barrier methods.

3.) Hormonal methods: your partner may use birth control pills, injections, or patches to prevent the release of eggs from the ovaries or the implantation of fertilised eggs into the uterus (womb). Emergency contraception (EC, or the ‘morning after’ pill) will prevent pregnancy if taken within 5 days of intercourse during which no contraception was used.

4.) Intrauterine device (IUD): your partner may have a small device placed into her uterus to decrease the likelihood of fertilisation (sperm and egg coming together) and to prevent implantation of fertilised eggs into the uterus.

All of these alternatives are less effective than vasectomy, but they are reversible. You should be familiar with them before proceeding with vasectomy. Please ask Dr. Osman if you would like more information, and feel free to postpone your vasectomy if you need more time to evaluate information about alternatives.

There is no form of fertility control accept abstinence that is free of potential complications. Vasectomy candidates must weigh the risks of vasectomy against the risks (for their partners) of alternative means of contraception as well as the risks associated with unplanned/unexpected pregnancies and either induced abortion or child birth. Vasectomy provides a means of permanent birth control with a minimum likelihood of complications and maximum chances of effectiveness and safety.

How much does it cost?

Private Patients – €450 for the procedure (to include €50 for 1 hour long consultation pre-procedure).
Semen analysis – ReproMed, Kilkenny – €120
Vasectomy attracts Tax Relief from REVENUE.
Revenue Form MED 1 Health Expenses – Claim for Relief