Intended for healthcare professionals

Clinical Review

Recent developments in vasectomy

BMJ 2005; 330 doi: (Published 03 February 2005) Cite this as: BMJ 2005;330:296
  1. Kerry Wright Aradhya, senior science writer/editor (,
  2. Kim Best, senior science writer/editor1,
  3. David C Sokal, associate medical director2
  1. 1 Field, Information and Training Services Department, Family Health International, PO Box 13950, Research Triangle Park, NC 27709, USA,
  2. 2 Clinical Research Department, Family Health International
  1. Correspondence to: D C Sokal
  • Accepted 5 January 2005


Vasectomy is one of the safest and most effective permanent contraceptive methods available. Compared with tubal ligation, which is usually done under general anaesthesia and entails surgery within a woman's peritoneal cavity, vasectomy is safer and men recover more quickly from the procedure. Vasectomies are usually done under local anaesthesia in outpatient settings, and men usually go home within an hour of the surgery. None the less, for various reasons, vasectomy procedures are less common than tubal ligation procedures in most countries.

Surgical techniques used for vasectomy vary widely throughout the world. The two main components of vasectomy are isolation of the vas deferens from the scrotum and subsequent vas occlusion. However, more than 30 different combinations of vas occlusion techniques probably exist,1 and poor quality studies, heterogeneous study designs, and conflicting results have made it difficult to determine which are the most effective.2

The most common technique, especially in low resource settings, is suture ligation with excision of a small segment of the vas.3 Few data are available on exact rates of use, but recent observations and interviews with surgeons in Asia suggest that at least 95% of all vasectomies in India, Nepal, and Bangladesh are done using ligation and excision (Michel Labrecque, Laval University, written communication, 28 May 2004). In contrast, data from 1995 indicate that only about 18% of vasectomies in the United States are done using this technique.4 Although vasectomy has traditionally been thought to have overall failure rates of 1-3% or lower,57 recent research indicates higher failure rates for ligation and excision.810

Because of a concern that vasectomy failure rates with ligation and excision could be higher than generally acknowledged, Family Health International and EngenderHealth convened a meeting of vasectomy experts in April 2001 in …

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