A laser vasectomy differs from a traditional vasectomy only in the choice of cutting instrument. As the name implies, in a laser vasectomy, a high-powered laser is used to sever the vas deferens tubes, as opposed to conventional procedures that use a scalpel or hemostat. Many patients have expressed a keen interest in laser vasectomy, and the procedure’s advocates suggest that this method requires fewer and smaller incisions than conventional vasectomies, making the procedure less invasive.
Vasectomy is a common surgical procedure, chosen by millions of men as an inexpensive, safe and very reliable form of birth control. The procedure involves severing the vas deferens tubes, preventing sperm from mixing with the semen. In the United States alone, about half a million men each year elect to undergo this procedure.
In the traditional procedure, the patient is injected with a local anesthetic. A small incision is then made in the scrotum to expose each vas deferens tube. Each tube is lifted and cut, then typically is tied or cauterized. After a few stitches to close the incisions, the procedure is complete, usually in about 30 minutes. Some techniques do not require stitches.
In a laser vasectomy procedure, the incision of the vas deferens tubes is accomplished with a high powered laser. An incision is, however, still required to expose the tubes, because the laser cannot penetrate opaque tissue without burning it. A laser vasectomy is identical to a conventional vasectomy in all other respects.
Critics of laser vasectomy often suggest that there is no identifiable benefit to using a laser for the procedure. Surgeons have used laser surgery techniques to successfully treat diseases and conditions such as retinal disorders, kidney stones, skin lesions, prostate disease and cancer, but the advantages of laser surgery, such as the ability to pass through transparent tissue and reduce bleeding, offer no useful benefit over conventional surgery in performing a vasectomy. The vas deferens still must be exposed before it is severed, and the tubes contain no large blood vessels, meaning that excessive bleeding is not a serious concern even when using conventional instruments. Additionally, the laser is expensive to operate, especially considering that similar results can be achieved with simpler instruments.
Some laser vasectomies have been performed without first exposing the tubes. Instead, the laser is positioned above the vas deferens, and the beam burns through the skin to the tube. This method is considered dangerous, because the laser is fired without seeing its target and easily can sever blood vessels or nerves as well as the intended target.