Supporting Vancouver Island families to make healthy, safe choices based on scientific evidence
Many parents are led by friends, family or their physician to believe that circumcision offers protection against any number of ailments. They are rarely informed of the valid scientific data which has demonstrated that not only is infant circumcision medically unnecessary, it causes permanent damage and puts the infant at risk for a laundry list of other complications. Victoria Circumcision Resources has compiled a list of the most common circumcision myths and addressed each with supportable scientific evidence to debunk them.
Urinary Tract Infections
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has issued two statements which, when read together, constitute a substantial change in AAP policy toward the prevention of UTI in infants. First, in 1997, the AAP Workgroup on Breastfeeding recommended breastfeeding as highly beneficial in preventing a wide range of infections including UTI. Second, in 1999, The 1999 AAP Task Force on Circumcision abandoned the previous stance of the 1989 Task Force on Circumcision that circumcision may provide protection against UTI. The 1999 Task Force found that the bulk of the UTI studies were so methodologically flawed—by failing to control for confounding factors such as breastfeeding—that no meaningful conclusions could be drawn from them. The 1999 AAP Task Force on Circumcision could not, therefore, recommend circumcision to reduce incidence of UTI (or any other disease).
The 1999 AAP Task Force on Circumcision did, however, declare that breastfeeding produces a three fold reduction in UTI in infants. Two separate panels of the AAP, the Work Group on Breastfeeding and the 1999 Task Force on Circumcision, now recommend breastfeeding to reduce incidence of UTI. As Outerbridge points out, breastfeeding is very effective in reducing incidence of UTI in both boys and girls.
- from the CIRP Library
Sexually Transmitted Diseases/Infections
Cross-sectional studies have been carried out in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia to determine the effects of circumcision upon STDs. All studies have found no significant effect of circumcision on the incidence of STD. Laumann et al. reported that circumcised men are slightly more likely to have both a bacterial and a viral STD in their lifetime. The British National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles reported that circumcised males have slightly more STDs but the difference was not judged to be statistically significant.
While the entire body of medical literature gives no clear indication one way or the other whether circumcision protects against STD, the more recent studies have shown that the natural intact penis may offer some protection against the contraction of various STDs. According to Storms:
Recent studies have demonstrated that circumcised men are at increased risk of contracting gonorrhea, syphilis and genital warts. Men are at equal risk for developing human papillomavirus lesions and herpes virus infections regardless of circumcision status. At least four studies have shown human immunodeficiency virus infection to occur more commonly in circumcised men.
Recent studies have demonstrated that circumcised men are more at risk of contracting urethritis, gonorrhea, syphilis, genital warts and chlamydia. Cook discovered that, when genital warts occur in intact males, they tend to occur near the distal (tip) end of the penis–the region where the foreskin’s protection would be least effective.
- from The CIRP Library
HIV / Human Immunodeficiency Virus
A number of studies from Africa point to the fact that the regions of Africa most troubled with HIV infection tend to overlap with the regions where male circumcision is rare. However, this does not imply a causal link: If the same argument were applied to the industrialized world, one would note that the United States has a high circumcision rate, and also has the highest prevalence of HIV. Circumcision alone cannot explain these differences. Furthermore, the applicability of data from Africa vis-à-vis the conditions in developed countries—where hygiene standards, prevalence of different STDs, and strains of HIV differ greatly—is questionable. Rather, these variances can be explained by looking at cultural differences and sexual practices.
- From The CIRP Library
Furthermore, serious questions are being raised with the flawed African HIV circumcision studies which have been widely publicized in the media. Researchers now believe that circumcision will lead to an increase in HIV infections. (Van Howe & Storms)
In addition to this, a study by Gregory Boyle and George Hill, which was published by Australia’s Thomson Reuters, showed that more women contracted the virus after unprotected intercourse to infected circumcised male partners. They concluded that male circumcision is associated with a 61-per-cent increase in HIV transmission from men to women.
“Across all the three female-to-male trials, of the 5,411 men subjected to male circumcision, 64 (1.18 per cent) became HIV-positive while among the 5,497 controls, 137 (2.49 per cent) became HIV-positive,” Boyle and Hill said.
“So the absolute decrease in HIV infection was only 1.31 per cent, which is not significant. Examination of epidemiological data shows that male circumcision does not provide protection against HIV transmission in several sub-Saharan African countries, including Cameroon, Ghana, Lesotho, Malawi, Rwanda and Tanzania, all of which have higher prevalence of HIV infection among circumcised men,” they concluded.
The known etiologies of cervical cancer are: early onset of sexual activity, number of sexual partners, smoking, and the presence of HPV.
Stern and Neely examined some of the early research on this subject:
“Since the recommendation had been made that circumcision should be used as a preventative measure against cancer of the cervix, we sought further confirmation of this hypothesis. An almost ideal population was that of the well women attending a cancer detection facility, where the population was split almost equally between women whose husbands were circumcised and those whose husbands were not. The discovery rate for cancer of the cervix among non-Jewish women whose marital partners were circumcised was no different from the rate among non-Jewish women with noncircumcised husbands. Further, the use of a sheath contraceptive by the marital partner, which has an effect equivalent to circumcision in that the cervix is protected from contact with the smegma, was found not to be associated with rate differences for cancer of the cervix.”This study, more than the others, exposed the myth that the presence of a foreskin or smegma had any association with the incidence of cancer of the cervix.
In February 1996, representatives of the American Cancer Society stated in a letter to the American Academy of Pediatrics:
The American Cancer Society does not consider routine circumcision to be a valid or effective measure to prevent such [genital] cancers. Research suggesting a pattern in the circumcision status of partners of women with cervical cancer is methodologically flawed, outdated and has not been taken seriously in the medical community for decades.”
- from The CIRP Library
The American Cancer Society issued a five part advisory statement on penile cancer in June 1999. Circumcision is not considered to be beneficial in preventing or reducing the risk of penile cancer.
In “Circumcision: An American Health Fallacy,” Edward Wallerstein writes: “If infant circumcision reduces penile cancer we could expect to see proportionately less penile cancer in circumcising nations as compared to noncircumcising ones. No such difference is found.”
- from The CIRP Library
Researchers have made many wild claims about circumcision since its inception as a treatment in search of a disease, but the prostate cancer myth is one of the most far-fetched. Indeed, one only needs to review the conclusions of Dr. Robert Van Howe to see that the science does not back up such nonsensical assertions.
The concept of using circumcision to reduce prostate cancer risk has no biological or epidemiological foundation. Even if one is willing to depart from reality and use the most extreme assumptions as put forth by Morris et al., circumcision of infants is not cost-effective.
For a thorough assessment of the prostate cancer myth, please visit DrMomma.org for a complete examination of the recent announcement that there is a link between circumcision status and prostate cancer.