Saturday, August 15, 2009

Natural Family Planning: Part 5: Vasectomy

I want to finish my section on the various harmful side effects that are associated with various methods of birth control before I begin to examine the moral and religious reasons that motivate people to use NFP. This last ABC section I will cover (for now at least).

A vasectomy is a surgery that is performed to make a man sterile. The doctor cuts out a portion of both ducts through which sperm passes through from the testes then ties or coagulates the ends that were cut. It's the male version of "having your tubes tied."

Here's what the Couple to Couple League has to say about the risks associated with the surgery-

What are the health risks of vasectomy?

Although the final verdict on the health risks of vasectomy is not in, suspicions are rising that the long-term effects on a man’s immunological system can pose serious health problems. Criticism is mounting within the medical community about the uncritical way in which vasectomy has been declared medically safe. Between 10% and 15% of adult men in the U.S. have been vasectomized3and yet, as Dr. H. J. Roberts has written, "I know of no other operation performed on humans that induces responses to such a degree by the immune system."4

What happens to the sperm?

After a vasectomy, sperm production continues as before, around 50,000 spermatozoa per minute.5Lacking a normal anatomical passage, these cells are either consumed by destroyer cells (macrophages) or degenerate and produce antigens that cause antibodies to be produced.6

At least eight of these sperm antigens have been identified. These antigens frequently infiltrate into the bloodstream and induce other cells throughout the body to manufacture antibodies against the sperm. These are called "anti-sperm autoantibodies."

What is autoimmunity?

Antibodies are the way we immunize ourselves against specific diseases in our environment. Antigens are the triggering mechanism the body needs in order to produce the right antibodies for its defense. An example of this effect is the allergic reaction that occurs when the body is highly sensitive to a certain food cell.

When the body gears up its defenses to destroy cells of its own making, as after a vasectomy, then the body becomes "auto-immune" — allergic to itself.

Has this been linked with vasectomy?

Several studies confirmed this linkage in the l970s, finding antibodies to sperm antigens in 55% to 75% of patients within two years after vasectomies.7 In a 1982 study, investigators pointed out. "...the incidence of sperm antibody following vasectomy may have been underdetected."8 It is so common to see this reaction among vasectomized men that an absence of such antibodies has become an indicator of hormonal malfunction.9 With more advanced methods of detection, it has been possible to detect the antibody response within two weeks after vasectomy.10

What are some auto-immune diseases?

Auto-immunity has been suspected to cause diseases such as multiple sclerosis, diabetes mellitus, rheumatoid arthritis, some types of hepatitis, Addison’s disease (malfunction of the adrenal glands), and lupus erythematosis.11

A landmark study by Nancy J. Alexander and Thomas B. Clarkson concluded that "the immunologic response to sperm antigen that often accompanies vasectomy can exacerbate atherosclerosis" (hardening of the arteries).12 Subsequent studies have lent support to their finding.13

What about the risk of cancer?

In the early 1980s, Dr. Richard Ablin, researcher at the Hwektoen Institute in Chicago , hypothesizes that prostate cancer could be caused by unejaculated sperm. A decade later, epidemiologists reported an "unexpected association " between vasectomy and prostate cancer. One study found the risk of this cancer increased between 3.5 to 5.3 times;14 a separate study found an overall risk 1.7 times greater beginning 12 years after vasectomy, rising to 2.2 times (more than double the risk) between 13 and 18 years later.15 Two large studies of vasectomized men were conducted through the Harvard Medical School and published in 1993. They found the overall risk of prostate cancer increased between 56 and 60%, increasing to 89% for those who had vasectomies 20 or more years earlier.16

Prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths among American men, claiming some 30,000 lives per year. Although these studies did not prove any conclusive link between vasectomy and prostate cancer, the American Urological Association urged that patients be informed of the risk on the basis of these papers.17

Increased risks of lung cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and multiple myeloma were noted among men 20 years after vasectomy.18 The Coronary Artery Surgery Study, analyzing 1106 men, found a two-and-a-half times higher risk of kidney stones among vasectomized patients 30-35 years old.19 An association with testicular cancer has also been noted.20 A healthy immune system is our day-to-day defense against cancer. The authors of the Harvard studies hypothesized "the immune response to sperm antigens following vasectomy may enhance tumor growth by blocking of antibodies of tumor suppresser cells by sperm antigens."21

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