Little Evidence of Circumcision's Benefit, Says Pediatric Group
The United States' largest group of pediatricians is calling for an end to
the routine circumcision of newborn boys, saying the procedure offers minimal
The American Academy of Pediatricians' announcement reverses a nearly
century-old practice. For decades, American physicians have claimed removing
the foreskin from the head of the penis reduced the risk of infections.
More recent research, however, has questioned the benefit of the procedure.
Uncircumcised boys, the research shows, have only a slightly higher rate of
infection and disease than circumcised boys. Now the AAP has declared in its
March issue of the journal Pediatrics, "What medical benefits
[circumcision] does have do not warrant the AAP to recommend routine newborn
"It appears most people can lead a healthy life without having to have
it done," Dr. Jack Swanson, a member of the AAP's Task Force on
Circumcision, tells WebMD. "All the studies did show a benefit to having
circumcision, but the benefits were not great."
According to the AAP, circumcision has been around since the Egyptian
dynasties as a method to maintain penile hygiene. In the United States, about
1.2 million newborn boys are circumcised each year. In analyzing numerous
studies from around the world, the AAP found that even though circumcision has
been touted to lower the risk of urinary tract infections, the chances of an
uncircumcised boy developing such an infection was low.
The AAP found only one in 100 uncircumcised boys was likely to develop a
urinary tract infection compared with one in 1,000 circumcised boys. In a study
appearing in the Dec. 5 issue of The Lancet, a team of Canadian
researchers found after analyzing about 30,000 boys, uncircumcised boys were
only 3.7 times more likely to develop a urinary tract infection. Earlier
research suggested that boys were 39 times more likely to get such an
Uncircumcised males also were three times more likely to develop cancer in
the penis compared with a circumcised man, but fewer than 10 men in 1 million
develop this extremely rare cancer, the AAP says. Circumcision did not appear
to influence the risk of developing sexually transmitted diseases. The AAP says
sexual behavior is more likely to determine if a man contracts a STD than
"The medical debate is over; there are no medical reasons to justify
it," says Dr. George Denniston, president of the international organization
Doctors Opposing Circumcision and a professor at the University of Washington
in Seattle. Dr. Denniston says removing the foreskin to prevent infection is
like "cutting off the ear to reduce ear infections. It's just
Should parents decide to have their son undergo circumcision, the AAP says
that the child should receive topical painkillers. The pediatric group's
analysis found newborns circumcised without anesthesia experience pain and
stress during the procedure. This was determined by measuring their heart rate,
blood pressure and increased oxygen intake.
Parents also are being advised to consider cultural, religious and ethnic
traditions when deciding whether or not to circumcise. Dr. Swanson says parents
should "know all the facts about possible medical reasons and risks, and
try to make a decisions based on all the facts."