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Can Circumcision Prevent Prostate Cancer?

Study Shows Circumcised Men May Be 15% Less Likely to Develop Prostate Cancer

By Denise Mann
WebMD Health News

Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

March 12, 2012 -- Circumcision may lower a man's risk for developing prostate cancer, a new study suggests.

During circumcision, the tissue covering the head of the penis (the foreskin) is removed. While it may reduce the risk of certain sexually transmitted diseases and penile cancer, circumcision is not without controversy and risks, including bleeding and infection. The American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend routine circumcision.

The study included almost 3,400 men. Of these, 1,754 had prostate cancer. Undergoing circumcision before first sexual intercourse was linked with a 15% reduced risk of developing prostate cancer. This finding is an association only and cannot prove cause and effect.

Exactly why, or if, circumcision has any effect on prostate cancer risk is not known. One theory is that some prostate cancers may be linked to sexually transmitted infections. The new findings are published in Cancer.

Researchers from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle say that more study is needed to understand this relationship.

Urologists Recommend Circumcision, but Not for Prostate Cancer Prevention

Several urologists who are in favor of circumcision agree that it is too early to draw any conclusions about how this procedure may affect prostate cancer risk.

Elizabeth Kavaler, MD, is not convinced by the new findings. She is a urologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. "This is a stretch," she says. Yes, there are medical reasons for circumcision, but prostate cancer prevention is not one of them. "Urologists recommend circumcision at birth for prevention of sexually transmitted diseases and penile cancer."

Louis Kavoussi, MD, is the chairman of urology at North Shore-LIJ Health System in Lake Success, N.Y. "There is some data that implies that prostate cancer may have an infectious component," he says. But it is too soon to say whether circumcision may protect a man from prostate cancer. "That would be a huge jump. There are good reasons to get circumcised, but prostate cancer prevention is not one of them."

Rick Bennett, MD, agrees: "I would not make the decision about circumcision based on prostate cancer risk reduction." But this is an "intriguing relationship." Bennett is a urologist at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Mich.

SOURCES: Wright, J.L. Cancer, 2012, study received ahead of print.Louis Kavoussi, MD, chairman of urology, North Shore-LIJ Health System, Lake Success, N.Y.Elizabeth Kavaler, MD, urologist, Lenox Hill Hospital, New York City.Rick Bennett, MD, urologist, Beaumont Hospital, Royal Oak, Mich.

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