Circumcision Facts, Pros, Cons, and Risks - What You Need to Know

Circumcision is a surgical procedure to remove the foreskin of the penis. Circumcision began in ancient times as part of religious rites in the Jewish and Islamic faiths. Today circumcisions are performed for religious reasons or because of parental preference.

The procedure is usually performed in the hospital or medical clinics a day or two after birth. In the Jewish religion the circumcision is usually done on the baby boy’s eighth day. During the circumcision procedure the foreskin of the penis is surgically removed exposing the glans or head of the penis. The procedure can be done on older boys and men but it is more complicated and has more risks.

Does Circumcision have Health Benefits?

 Long as issue of debate, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) considers the benefits of circumcision are not great enough to recommend the procedure routinely. That said, other medical personnel believe there is enough evidence to suggest circumcision does provide some health benefits.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) there is compelling evidence that suggests circumcision can reduce the risk of a man getting HIV from an infected women by up to 60 percent. This evidence has lead to the recommendation that men and boys in certain areas of Africa where HIV has reach epidemic proportions be circumcised. In addition to the evidence about the spread of HIV, circumcision may reduce the chance of acquiring genital herpes by up to 30 percent.

Other theoretical health benefits associated with circumcision include:

  • reduced risk of urinary tract infections
  • reduced risk of penile cancer
  • reduced chance of cervical cancer in women whose sexual partner is circumcised
  • prevention of balaoposthitis or the inflammation of the glans and foreskin
  • prevention of the inability to retract the foreskin or phimosis
  • prevention of paraphimosis or the inability to return the foreskin to its normal position
  • prevention of the inflammation of the glans called balanitis
  • circumcision may reduce the risk of women getting a vaginal infection called bacterial vaginosis, urinary tract infections, human papillomavirus, and yeast infections

The decision for circumcision is a personal one. Beginning in the 1940s, American parents routinely circumcised their newborn sons. By the mid 1960s 85 percent of newborn baby boys were circumcised. The rate of circumcision began to drop in the 1990s and by 2009 the CDC reported only 32.5 percent of newborns were circumcised.

What are the Pros and Cons of Circumcision?

In general the medical community believes circumcision has health benefits not only because it helps to prevent the spread of STDs or sexually transmitted diseases in men and women, but also it is believed to lower the risk of prostate cancer. According to a study conducted by the University of Quebec men who were circumcised after age 35 had their risk of prostate cancer reduced by 45 percent. The study indicates circumcised black men experience an even greater benefit with their prostate cancer risk cut by 60 percent.

“This is a particularly interesting finding, as black men have the highest rates of prostate cancer in the world and this has never been explained, this novel finding warrants further examination in future studies that have a larger number of black participants. Until now, the only risk factors for prostate cancer that had been identified were advanced age, a family history of the disease and African ancestry.” said Dr Marie-Élise Parent of the University of Quebec.

Dr Parent and Dr Andrea Spence, of the University of Quebec, led the team that conducted the study of 1,590 prostate cancer patients in Montreal and 1,618 healthy people to investigate the possible association between circumcision and prostate cancer risk.

Those who are opposed to circumcision believe the procedure is “barbaric and causes unnecessary pain.” They view circumcision as mutilation of a natural part of the male body that serves a function. Others oppose circumcision because they feel the risk of complications surpasses the benefits of circumcision.

What are the Risks of Circumcision?

Like any surgical procedure, circumcision is not without risk. The most common complications after the procedure are pain, bleeding, rash and irritation, infection, failure of foreskin to heal properly, Irritation of the glans, meatitis or inflammation of the opening of the penis, and injury to the penis. The risks of complication after circumcision seems to increase with age, boys over one year of age have an increased risk of infection, bleeding, difficulty urinating, and more scarring than infants.

Though rare, the surgery might result in disfigurement of the penis, problems with the foreskin such as the skin is cut too short or not short enough. If not enough of the foreskin is removed, the foreskin may reattach to the head of the penis. This will require a minor surgical procedure to repair.

Circumcision for adult males has risks not associated with infant circumcision. Healing takes longer and it is recommended men abstain from all sexual activity for four to six weeks. An erection during this healing period can be extremely painful and may even damage the sutures.

 Before deciding on circumcision for your son or yourself, consider the fact that the surgical procedure is permanent and is not reversible. If you have any reservations about circumcision, talk to the pediatrician or urologist performing the procedure.

Circumcision is a Personal or Religious Choice

Whatever your opinion or view point is about circumcision, the procedure will continue to be the subject of heated debate by the pro and con camps. The evidence in support of circumcision for health reasons is not compelling enough for the medical community to recommend it as a routine procedure and the risks are not enough to recommend against the procedure. Circumcision does not affect a man’s fertility, nor is there concrete evidence that circumcision either enhances or detracts from the sexual pleasure of the man or his partner.

The bottom line is, circumcision continues to be a matter of personal or religious preference.

Dr. Tahmoures Bahrami

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