Device offers alternative to vasectomies

The new sterilization procedure causes less pain and has a greater chance of being reversed.
Thursday, July 31, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 2:21 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Each year, more than 500,000 vasectomies are performed in U.S. hospitals. But a new type of male sterilization has men across the country — and soon in Columbia — saying clip it, don’t snip it.

The Vasclip procedure offers a quicker, less painful procedure than a vasectomy and may have a better chance of reversibility. A Vasclip is a plastic clip the size of a grain of rice. It is used to stop flow through the vas deferens, the two tubes that carry sperm. During a traditional vasectomy, the vas deferens are cut and sealed.

The Vasclip was cleared by the Food and Drug Administration last fall and introduced to physicians at the American Urological Association meeting in April. Two local physicians attended the meeting and are trained in the procedure, but neither has performed the Vasclip procedure on a patient yet.

Dr. Stephen Weinstein, associate professor in the division of urology at University Hospital in Columbia, said University Hospital recently received its first shipment of Vasclips, and he has already received inquiries from men interested in the procedure.

“The most promising thing about this is that they are developing a modification of this clip that will enable you to reverse a vasectomy without major surgery,” Weinstein said.

The Vasclip Co. plans to do a study to determine the success rate of reversibility on patients who have undergone the Vasclip procedure. It is believed that because less damage is done to the vas deferens during the procedure, it will be more easily reversible. However, until the study is released, the procedure should be considered permanent.

“I think it will be an improvement, but I’m not sure I would categorize it as a major improvement,” Weinstein said. He thinks this is a small to moderate advancement on the current no-scalpel vasectomy, which involves making a small puncture instead of an incision in the scrotum.

Dr. Siobhan McGaughey, a urologist at Associated Urologists in Columbia, said she thinks that although the procedure is still relatively new, the prospect of less dissection, less operating time, fewer complications and improved patient comfort make this procedure appealing.

“I think that in the properly selected patient it will work just fine,” said McGaughey, who has also received inquiries about the procedure.

She said patients are required to have an exam and consultation beforehand to determine whether they are good candidates.

McGaughey seems optimistic about the procedure when it’s done properly. The Vasclip Co. reported a 2.5 percent failure rate in an initial study, but that was due to improper clip placement, not a defect in the device.

Weinstein said the biggest issue is cost. He said the clips add more than $350 to the price of a vasectomy, which ranges from $1,000 to $2,000.

McGaughey said reimbursement issues with insurance companies could play a factor in the popularity of the procedure since coverage may vary from company to company.

The idea for the Vasclip originated with Jim Segermark, who was scheduled to have a vasectomy twice but was weary of the procedure, specifically the need to cut and burn the vas deferens.

Segermark, founder and chairman of The Vasclip Co., became the first person to have the procedure done. “It worked, and it was what I had hoped my procedure would have been eight years earlier,” Segermark said in a phone interview.

Segermark said most men he has talked to about the procedure said they experienced minimal pain and compared it to an irritating mosquito bite. He said his experience was similar and he was able to return to work the same day.

“The mosquito analogy actually is quite good because it itches — instead of hurts — post-procedure,” said Chris Herman, director of engineering for the Vasclip Co. Herman also had the procedure.

Segermark says the Vasclip procedure will soon become the “gold standard” for male sterilization procedures, replacing vasectomies. He said it is “something everybody should know about and, frankly, embrace.”

The Vasclip Co. said there are more than 300 physicians in 42 states that are trained in the procedure.

McGaughey said the product’s popularity will be patient-driven, and Weinstein said he expects the procedure to take off.

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