Circumcision reduces cancer risk
Male circumcision is probably one of the oldest and most common surgical procedure. Globally, for various reasons, about one in four men is circumcised. It seems that this procedure reduces the risk of contracting penile human papillomavirus (HPV) infections which could thereby also reduce the risk of cervical cancer in the female partner. Circumcision, particularly in childhood, is a minor operation in which the foreskin on the penis is surgically removed.
HPV causes genital warts in men and women and has been linked to cancers of the cervix, vulva, vagina, anus and penis. To investigate whether male circumcision might reduce the risk of HPV in both men and women, researchers at the Hospitalet de Llobregat in Barcelona, Spain, and an international team of researchers evaluated the prevalence of HPV infection in more than 1,900 couples living in five different countries.
Penile HPV was detected in 166 (20%) of the 847 uncircumcised men and in 16 (6%) of the 292 circumcised men. After taking into consideration various factors like age of first intercourse and lifetime number of sexual partners etc. the investigators found that circumcision reduced a man's risk of HPV infection by 63%. It was also reported that monogamous women whose circumcised male partners had six or more sexual partners had 58% less risk for cervical cancer.
The current study suggests that circumcision of men at high risk for penile HPV infection may decrease by 50% or more the overall risk of cervical cancer among their female partners. Regular use of condoms may also prevent the sexual transmission of HPV and thereby cervical cancer. The use of condoms can, at least in theory, be advocated for men involved in high-risk sexual behaviour. It remains to be seen whether advocating circumcision is a realistic and important addition to other strategies in combatting cervical cancer.
NEJM April 2002, Vol. 345(15)
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