Circumcision benefits far outweigh risks, finds study in Mayo Clinic Proceedings
Over their lifetime, half of uncircumcised males will contract an adverse medical condition caused by their foreskin, researchers say
By Rachel Gleeson Posted on 2 April 2014
The health benefits of infant male circumcision exceed the risks by over 100 to 1, according to a new study just published online in Mayo Clinic Proceedings.
Dr. Brian Morris, Professor Emeritus in the School of Medical Sciences at the University of Sydney, and his colleagues in the United States found that over their lifetime, half of uncircumcised males will contract an adverse medical condition caused by their foreskin.
The findings add considerable weight to the latest American Academy of Pediatrics policy that supports education and access for infant male circumcision.
In the US, the rate of circumcision in men has increased to 81 percent over the past decade. However, while circumcision rates have risen in white men to 91 percent, in black men to 76 percent, and in Hispanic men to 44 percent, the study authors found an alarming decrease in infants. To get the true figures, they had to correct hospital discharge data for under-reporting. This showed that circumcision had declined from a high of 83 percent in the 1960s to 77 percent today.
There seemed to be two major reasons for the fall.
- One is a result of demographic changes, with the rise in the Hispanic population. Hispanic families tend to be less familiar with the custom, making them less likely to circumcise their baby boys.
- The other is the current absence of Medicaid coverage for the poor in 18 US states. In those states circumcision is 24 percent lower.
Dr. Morris said the findings should convince healthcare professionals to offer the option routinely:
The new findings show that infant circumcision should be regarded as equivalent to childhood vaccination and that as such it would be unethical not to routinely offer parents circumcision for their baby boy. Delay puts the child's health at risk and will usually mean it will never happen.
In infancy, the strongest immediate benefit is protection against urinary tract infections (UTIs) that can damage the kidney in half of babies who get a UTI. Dr. Morris and co-investigator Dr. Tom Wiswell of the Center for Neonatal Care in Orlando, Florida, showed last year that over the lifetime UTIs affect one in three uncircumcised males.
Previously, In a landmark systematic review in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, Dr. Morris, with John Krieger, MD, of the Department of Urology at the University of Washington, Seattle, found that there is no adverse effect of circumcision on sexual function, sensitivity, or pleasure. "This helped dispel one myth perpetuated by opponents of the procedure," Dr. Morris said.
Based on these studies, Dr. Morris is calling for professionals in health, education and government to promote the circumcision of male infants and increase access for low-income families:
Taken together, the new findings should send a strong message to medical practitioners, professional bodies, educators, policy makers, governments, and insurers to promote this safe, simple procedure, best done in infancy under local anesthesia and to increase access and third party coverage, especially for poor families, who tend to suffer most from foreskin-related diseases. Infant circumcision has, moreover, been shown to be cost saving.
Video: Dr. Brian Morris talks about his findings
Read the study
This study is freely available online: "Circumcision Rates in the United States: Rising or Falling? What Effect Might the New Affirmative Pediatric Policy Statement Have?" by Brian J. Morris, DSc, PhD; Stefan A. Bailis, PsyD; and Thomas E. Wiswell, MD (DOI: 10.1016/j.mayocp.2014.01.001).
Mayo Clinic Proceedings
The flagship journal of the Mayo Clinic and one of the premier peer-reviewed clinical journals in general medicine, Mayo Clinic Proceedings is among the most widely read and highly cited scientific publications for physicians, with a circulation of approximately 125,000. While the journal is sponsored by the Mayo Clinic, it welcomes submissions from authors worldwide, publishing articles that focus on clinical medicine and support the professional and educational needs of its readers.
Elsevier Connect Contributor
Rachel Gleeson is Media and Public Relations Adviser for Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy and Dentistry at the University of Sydney in Australia.