The following information is on the procedure of vasectomy provided as background for those considering vasectomy reversal and wishing to restore their fertility.

Vasectomy

Vasectomy is an elective surgical sterilisation procedure that involves division and occlusion of both vas deferens to prevent the passage of sperm from the testes to the penis in order to achieve what is usually permanent contraception. While permanence should always be the intent, vasectomy can be reversed in most men who wish to restore their fertility due to a change of mind circumstance.

In Australia vasectomies are performed in a range of settings including general practices, family planning centres, hospital outpatient clinics, day surgeries and general hospitals. Vasovasostomy (vas deferens to vas deferens) and vasoepididymostomy (vas deferens to epididymis) for vasectomy reversal require advanced microsurgical methods and as such are usually performed as in-patient procedures on a day surgical basis.

Vasectomy is the sole acceptable highly effective method of male contraception. Australia is one of less than 10 nations in which vasectomy is more common than fallopian tube occlusion for female sterilisation. It is currently six times more popular than female tubal occlusion as a method of contraception. This ratio has changed remarkably over the last 30 years, tubal occlusion was more frequent than vasectomy in 1980.

Incidence

Between 15,000 and 16,000 vasectomies are performed annually in Australia. Less than 1% of these are for men aged less than 25 years of age and most are for men aged 30–49. There has been a consistent increasing trend of the age of men undergoing the procedure. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report that one-quarter of men aged 40 and over have undergone a vasectomy. Over the last decade the incidence of vasectomy has decreased by approximately one third (about 24,000 vasectomies were undertaken in 2004-05). The steady increase in the use of progestin laden intrauterine devices and subcutaneous implants for female contraception, which can have the combined benefit of a reduction of menstrual symptoms as well as contraceptive efficacy that compares to both vasectomy and fallopian tube occlusion is most likely responsible for the reduction in the frequency of vasectomy.

Effectiveness

Vasectomy is one of the most effective methods of birth control. It is less likely to fail than the oral contraceptive pill or condom. Pregnancy occurs in approximately 15 out of 10,000 couples after vasectomy. By comparison, pregnancy occurs in 1,400 of every 10,000 couples each year using condoms, and 500 of every 10,000 each year using oral contraceptive pills. Almost all pregnancies that do occur following vasectomy do so within the first year after the procedure.

Reasons for vasectomy

Vasectomy is perceived as a secure way of avoiding pregnancy and couples that elect it for permanent contraception view it as safer and simpler than tubal occlusion. It has the obvious advantages of being user non-dependent.

Surgical methods of vasectomy

Vasectomy can be performed in almost all patients with local anaesthesia alone using a fine bore needle for infiltration (25–32 gauge). Rarely pre-operative examination may indicate that isolation of the vas is particularly difficult or painful and in some circumstances due to patient or surgeon preference then vasectomy may be performed with oral or intravenous sedation or general anaesthesia.

The two key surgical steps in performing vasectomy are:

  • isolation of the vas
  • occlusion of the vas

The risks of intraoperative and early postoperative pain, bleeding and infection are related mainly to the method of vas isolation. Prophylactic antibiotics are not indicated unless multiple comorbidities indicate a high risk of infection. The failure rates of vasectomy are related to the method of vas occlusion.

There are two main surgical techniques for isolating the vas deferens. The available evidence indicates that minimally invasive vas isolation procedure results in less discomfort during the procedure and in fewer postoperative complications.

Conventional Vasectomy

One mid-line or bilateral scrotal incisions are made with a scalpel. Incisions are usually 1.5-3.0 cm long. The vas is grasped with an Allis forceps.

Several different methods of vassal occlusion can be used including cautery with or without fascial interposition; ligatures and clips. As there is no significant difference in failure rates between them the method of occlusion should be one of personal preference. Opened ended vasectomy – where the testicular end of the vas is not occluded is associated with less post-operative pain but higher failure rates.

Minimally invasive Vasectomy

This method that uses specific instruments such as the vas ring clamp and vas dissector to isolate the vas and then pull it through a small scrotal incision. The incision is usually less than 1cm. The ends are either cauterised or tied off and then put back in place. The area of dissection around the vas is kept to a minimum.

A common variant of this technique is known as the ‘no-scalpel vasectomy’. With this method a vas ring clamp is applied around the vas, peri-vasal tissue and overlying skin before making the skin opening. Then the skin is pierced to create an opening of ≤10 mm. The tissue overlying the vas is then spread with the vas dissector to expose the bare anterior wall of the vas, which is then pierced with one tip of the vas dissector. A supination manoeuvre is then used to elevate the vas above the skin opening. a partial thickness of the vas is then re-grasped and the posterior dissection is completed with the vas dissector to isolate the vas from surrounding peri-vasal tissue and vessels. The vas divided with or without excision of a vas segment, and then occlusion of the vas is performed in a manner and with a preference similar to conventional vasectomy. Usually the skin opening can be left un-sutured.

Post-vasectomy semen analysis

Vasectomy is not immediately effective. Another method of contraception should be used until the remaining sperm are cleared out of the semen. This takes 15 to 20 ejaculations. Even then, some men will still have sperm in the semen and will need to have further semen analyses. A semen analysis to assess the success of vasectomy should be undertaken 3 months post vasectomy. Patients may cease using other methods of contraception when a zero sperm count has been achieved. Vasectomy failure occurs in less than 1% of vasectomies and is determined by the presence of any motile sperm six months after vasectomy. The recanalization rate following initial documentation of a zero sperm count is 0.51% for vasal ligation and 0.28% where diathermy is used to ablate the vasal lumen.

Risks and complications

Vasectomy is generally uncomplicated. The discomfort that occurs after surgery usually settles promptly and there are no sequelae. While the common complications are potentially serious, conservative management mostly leads to spontaneous resolution. Haematoma, infection, sperm granulomas, vasectomy failure, chronic pain and "regret" are all documented. Haematoma and infection occur following 1-2% of procedures. Sperm granuloma is rarely symptomatic. Chronic scrotal pain sufficient to disrupt quality of life also occurs in 1-2% of men that may require vasovasostomy or epididymectomy, and in rare instance orchidectomy. There is one report of death after vasectomy due to Fournier’s gangrene, a necrotising mixed aerobic and anaerobic bacterial infection of the perineum.

Recovery

After a vasectomy, most men go home the same day and in the absence of complications resume all normal activities within a week. Sexual activity can resume after one week or beyond that when comfortable to do so.

Sperm Antibodies

Between 50% and 70% of men develop circulating anti-sperm antibodies following vasectomy. The precise cause of the development of sperm antibodies is uncertain. The so-called ‘testis-blood barrier’ usually minimises exposure of sperm. Leakage of sperm at the time of vasectomy is likely to contribute to the development of sperm antibodies. Some investigators have suggested that such antibodies may decrease the chance for successful pregnancy after vasectomy reversal. Studies into pregnancy rates following vasectomy reversal demonstrate mean postoperative conception rate of between 60% and 85% for patients of less than 15 years from their vasectomy undergoing microsurgical vasovasostomy. As the presence of circulating anti-sperm antibodies correlates poorly with postoperative fecundability the value of preoperative anti-sperm antibody testing prior to vasectomy is unproven and unnecessary.

Testicular changes after vasectomy

Pathologic changes in testicular histology commonly occur following vasectomy. Electron microscopy revealed that interstitial fibrosis was present in the testis of 23% of men following vasectomy and that some evidence of adverse impact on spermatogenic cells within the seminiferous tubules is almost universal. These testicular changes are not associated with antisperm antibody status. The fertility in men who undergo successful vasectomy reversal (as defined by both sperm in the ejaculate and conception) is strongly inversely correlated with pathological changes in the testes post-vasectomy.

Other relevant issues

Regret

Rates of dissatisfaction with vasectomy and/or regret at having undergone the procedure are in the range of 1-2% across a large number of studies, settings, and techniques. Men who have vasectomy before age 30 are the group proportionately most likely to want to suffer regret and request vasectomy reversal in the future.

Sexual function after vasectomy

While many men are concerned that vasectomy may affect sexual function there is little evidence that this occurs. Just as many men (5%) report an increase in sexual satisfaction after vasectomy as report a decrease. Patients may be assured that there is currently no good evidence of any negative effect on sexual function. Vasectomy does not change the risk for sexually transmitted diseases.

Summary

Vasectomy is intended to be a permanent form of contraception. As vasectomy does not produce immediate sterility another form of contraception is necessary until the absence of sperm is confirmed by post-vasectomy semen analysis.

The risk of pregnancy after vasectomy is approximately 1 in 2,000 for men who have post-vasectomy azoospermia (absence of sperm). Patients should refrain from ejaculation for approximately one week after vasectomy. Complications are uncommon with events such as symptomatic haematoma and infection occur follow 1-2% of vasectomies.

Repeat vasectomy is necessary in ≤1% of men. Post vasectomy pain syndrome occurs after vasectomy in about 1- 2% of men and may require additional surgery.

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Vasectomy Reversal procedure