Numerous medical studies have examined the effects of male circumcision with mixed opinions regarding the benefits and risks of the procedure.

Positions of major health organizations

United States

The American Academy of Pediatrics (1999) found both potential benefits and risks in infant circumcision. It felt that there was insufficient data to recommend routine neonatal circumcision, and recommended that parental decisions on circumcision should be made with as much accurate and unbiased information as possible, taking medical, cultural, ethnic, traditional, and religious factors into account. The AAP also recommended using analgesia as a safe and effective method for reducing pain associated with circumcision, and that circumcision on newborns only be performed on infants who are stable and healthy.[1]

The American Medical Association (1999) noted that medical associations in the US, Australia, and Canada did not recommend routine circumcision of newborns. It supported the general principles of the 1999 Circumcision Policy Statement of the American Academy of Pediatrics[2]

The American Academy of Family Physicians (January 2007) recommends that physicians discuss the potential harms and benefits of circumcision with all parents or legal guardians considering circumcision for newborn boys.[3]

The American Urological Association (May 2007) noted the results of the recent randomized controlled studies in Africa and stated: "While the results of studies in African nations may not necessarily be extrapolated to men in the United States at risk for HIV infection, the American Urological Association recommends that circumcision should be presented as an option for health benefits." [4]


The Fetus and Newborn Committee of the Canadian Paediatric Society posted "Circumcision: Information for Parents" in November 2004,[5] and "Neonatal circumcision revisited" in 1996. The 1996 position statement says that "circumcision of newborns should not be routinely performed," (a statement with which the Royal Australasian College of Physicians concurs,) and the 2004 advice to parents says it "does not recommend circumcision for newborn boys. Many paediatricians no longer perform circumcisions."[6]

United Kingdom

The British Medical Association's position (June 2006) was that male circumcision for medical purposes should only be used where less invasive procedures are either unavailable or not as effective. The BMA specifically refrained from issuing a policy regarding “non-therapeutic circumcision,” stating that as a general rule, it “believes that parents should be entitled to make choices about how best to promote their children’s interests, and it is for society to decide what limits should be imposed on parental choices.”[7]


The Royal Australasian College of Physicians states there is no medical indication for routine neonatal circumcision (emphasis as in the original). It states, "If the operation is to be performed, the medical attendant should ensure this is done by a competent operator, using appropriate anaesthesia and in a safe child-friendly environment" [8]

Circumcision procedures

Circumcision removes the foreskin from the penis. For infant circumcision, clamps, such as the Gomco clamp, Plastibell, and Mogen are often used.[9] Clamps cut the blood supply to the foreskin, stop any bleeding and protect the glans. Before using a clamp, the foreskin and the glans are separated with a blunt probe and/or curved hemostat.

  • With the Plastibell, the foreskin and the clamp come away in three to seven days.
  • With a Gomco clamp, a section of skin is first crushed with a hemostat then slit with scissors. The foreskin is drawn over the bell shaped portion of the clamp and inserted through a hole in the base of the clamp. The clamp is then tightened, "crushing the foreskin between the bell and the base plate." The crushing limits bleeding (provides hemostasis). While the flared bottom of the bell fits tightly against the hole of the base plate, the foreskin is then cut away with a scalpel from above the base plate. The bell prevents the glans being reached by the scalpel.[10]
  • With a Mogen clamp, the foreskin is grabbed dorsally with a straight hemostat, and lifted up. The Mogen clamp is then slid between the glans and hemostat, following the angle of the corona to "avoid removing excess skin ventrally and to obtain a superior cosmetic result," than with Gomco or Plastibell circumcisions. The clamp is locked shut, and a scalpel is used to cut the foreskin from the flat (upper) side of the clamp.[11][12]

The frenulum is cut if frenular chordee is evident.[13][14]

Possible Complications of Circumcision

The complications listed here have been reported in medical journals. They may or may not occur in a particular operation.

While the risk in a competently performed medical circumcision is very low,[15] there can be complications just as with any other surgery. Williams & Kapila state: "the literature abounds with reports of morbidity and even death as a result of circumcision."[16] Complications may be immediate or delayed, and complications from bleeding, infection and poorly carried out circumcisions can be catastrophic.[17] The immediate complications may be classified as surgical mishap, hemorrhage, infection and anesthetic risk.

The American Medical Association quotes a complication rate of 0.2%–0.6%,[2] based on the studies of Gee[18] and Harkavy.[19] These same studies are quoted by the American Academy of Pediatrics.[20] The American Academy of Family Physicians quotes a range of anywhere between 0.1% and 35%.[21] The Canadian Paediatric Society cite these results in addition to other figures ranging anywhere between 0.06% to 55%, and remark that Williams & Kapila[16] suggested that 2-10% is a realistic estimate.[22] The RACP states that the penis is lost in 1 in 1,000,000 circumcisions.[23]

Deaths have been reported.[24][25] The American Academy of Family Physicians states that death is rare. It estimates a death rate from circumcision of 1 infant in 500,000.[21] Gairdner's 1949 study reported that an average of 16 children per year out of about 90,000 died following circumcision in the UK. He found that most deaths had occurred suddenly under anaesthesia and could not be explained further, but hemorrhage and infection had also proven fatal. Deaths attributed to phimosis and circumcision were grouped together, and Gairdner argued that such deaths were probably due to the circumcision operation.[26]

Adult circumcisions are often performed without clamps, and require 4 to 6 weeks of abstinence from masturbation or intercourse after the operation to allow the wound to heal.[27]

Immediate Complications

According to the AMA, blood loss and infection are the most common complications. Bleeding is mostly minor; applying pressure will stop it. [2] These complications are less likely with a skilled and experienced circumciser. Kaplan identified other complications, including urinary fistulas, chordee, cysts, lymphedema, ulceration of the glans, necrosis of all or part of the penis, hypospadias, epispadias, impotence and removal of too much tissue, sometimes causing secondary phimosis. He stated “Virtually all of these complications are preventable with only a modicum of care" and "most such complications occur at the hands of inexperienced operators who are neither urologists nor surgeons.”[24]

  • Infection
Infections are usually minor and local, but sometimes they have led to urinary tract infection,[28] life-threatening systemic infections,[29] meningitis[30] or death.[31]
Staphylococcal infections are a growing problem in hospitals for any operation,[32][33] and MSSA (methicillin susceptible) [34] strains of s.aureus have affected neonatal nurseries. Some research has found a statistically significant relationship between golden staph (Staphylococcus aureus) infections and whether an infant has been circumcised[35][36] Boys have been found to be far more susceptible to golden staph infections than girls and methicillin susceptible strains (MSSA) have infected circumcision wounds. Enzenauer stated: "Circumcision, which is performed on approximately 90 per cent of male infants born in our hospital, may be a factor. Circumcision, by its very nature. requires more staff-patient "hands-on" contact, both during the procedure and during preoperative and postoperative care." [37]
Images of an infant with a life threatening s.aureus infection may be found here[29]


Herpes. A minority of Jewish circumcisers practise Metzizah b'peh, (oral suction). It has been linked with 8 cases of herpes infection in Israeli infants, one of whom suffered brain damage.[38][39] In New York, three cases of herpes were linked with oral metzizah. One baby died and one suffered brain damage.[40] In response to this, New York public health officials warned the Jewish community about the dangers of metzizah b'peh [41]
The Israeli researchers said:
"We support ritual circumcision but without oral metzitzah, which might endanger the newborns and is not part of the religious procedure," write researcher Benjamin Gesundheit, MD, of Ben Gurion University in Israel, and colleagues [39]
The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene said:
Because there is no proven way to reduce the risk of herpes infection posed by metzitzah b'peh, the Health Department recommends that infants being circumcised not undergo metzitzah b'peh. [41] (emphasis in the original)
However, in In May of 2006, the Department of Health for New York State, issued a protocol for the performance of metzitzah b'peh.[42] Dr. Antonia C. Novello, Commissioner of Health for New York State, together with a board of rabbis and doctors, worked to allow the practice of metzizah b'peh to continue while still meeting the Department of Health's responsibility to protect the public health.[43]
Dr. Novello said:
“I want to reiterate that the welfare of the children of your community is our common goal and that it is not our intent to prohibit metzizah b'peh after circumcision, rather our intent is to suggest measures that would reduce the risk of harm, if there is any, for future circumcisions where metzizah b'peh is the customary procedure and the possibility of an infected mohel may not be ruled out. I know that successful solutions can and will be based on our mutual trust and cooperation.”
  • Hemorrhage
Bleeding after circumcision is usually minor and easily controlled, but on rare occasions it has led to shock from blood loss (hypovolemic shock) or death (exsanguination).[44]

Coagulation disorders affect from 2 to 4 per cent of the population and the condition is underdiagnosed/[45] Severe bleeding following circumcision may be a sign of hemophilia [3].

  • Surgical mishap
Mistakes can happen with any surgery. Surgical mistakes from circumcision include documented cases of penile denudation [4], cutting off part or all of the glans penis[5], urethral fistula[6], several types of injury associated with certain types of circumcision clamps used [7] and penile necrosis which results in loss of the entire penis.
  • Anesthetic risk
Anesthetic risk includes methaemglobinaemia[8][9].

Delayed Complications

  • Meatal stenosis[10] may be a common longer-term complication from circumcision. Recent publications give a frequency of occurrence between 0.9%[46] and 9% to 10%.[47]
  • Urinary retention [11];
  • Venous stasis, the slowing down of venous blood flow [12] [13]
  • Concealed penis [14][15];
  • Adhesions [16];
  • Skin bridges [17], when the cut skin attaches to the glans penis. Skin bridges do not commonly require surgical correction; rather, a brief, simple office procedure may be performed.[48]
  • Painful erections. [18]
  • Meatitis The opening to the urethra (meatus) may also be affected, leading to inflammation [19], meatal ulceration[20], and narrowing of the urethra (meatal stenosis[21][22].

Some also argue that anger over being circumcised as a child is also a complication of circumcision.[23]

Pain, stress, trauma, and interference with breastfeeding initiation

The American Academy of Pediatrics' policy states:

Some common painful minor procedures, such as circumcision, do not always receive the warranted attention to comfort issues. Available research indicates that newborn circumcisions are a significant source of pain during the procedure and are associated with irritability and feeding disturbances during the days afterward. Opportunities for alleviating pain exist before, during, and after the procedure, and many interventions are effective.[24]
-- The Assessment and Management of Acute Pain in Infants, Children and Adolescents, 2001.

Many studies have examined adverse effects of the procedure; some employing various forms of pain relief. A few of these findings are summarised in the following table.

Study1Effects noted Unstated
Marshall (1982) [25]Brief and transitory effects on mother-infant interactions observed during hospital feeding sessions.
No pain relief
Howard (1994) [26]Significant increases in heart rate, respiratory rate, and crying. Deteriorated feeding behaviour.
Taddio (1997) [27]Stronger pain response during vaccination 4 to 6 months later.
Lander (1997) [28] [29] Sustained elevation of heart rate and high-pitched cry. Choking and apnea in 2 of 11 infants circumcised without pain relief.
Acetaminophen (Tylenol/Paracetamol)
Howard (1994) [30]Significant increases in heart rate, respiratory rate, and crying. Deteriorated feeding behaviour. Improved comfort after postoperative period.
Taddio (1997) [31]Stronger pain response during vaccination 4 to 6 months later, though attenuated as compared to placebo.
EMLA (topical anaesthetic)
Lander (1997) [32]Significantly less crying and lower heart rates compared with those circumcised without anaesthetic (see above).
Dorsal penile nerve block (DPNB)
Kirya (1978) [33] Circumcision pain eliminated except when the injection needle was misplaced.
Lander (1997) [34]Significantly less crying and lower heart rates than circumcision without anaesthetic. Not effective during foreskin separation and incision.
Ring block
Lander (1997) [35]Significantly less crying and lower heart rates than circumcision without anaesthetic. Equally effective through all stages of the circumcision

1 Studies investigating several forms of pain relief have one entry for each form.

Howard et al report that neonatal circumcision without anaesthesia and using acetaminophen (Tylenol) results in deteriorated breast-feeding immediately after circumcision.[36] They commented:

Numerous studies have shown that circumcision causes severe pain. This is shown by measures of crying, heart rate, respiratory rate, transcutaneous PO2, and cortisol levels ...[]... Neonatal circumcision are often performed on the day of discharge with many neonates leaving the hospital 3 to 6 hours postoperatively. Thus the observed deterioration in ability to breast-feed may potentially contribute to breast-feeding failure. Furthermore some neonates in this study required formula supplementation because of maternal frustration with attempts at breast-feeding, or because the neonate was judged unable to breast-feed postoperatively. This finding is disconcerting because early formula supplementation is associated with decreased breast-feeding duration.

Howard et al. concluded that:

Acetaminophen was not found to ameliorate either the intra-operative or the immediate postoperative pain of circumcision, although it seems that it may provide some benefit after the postoperative period.[37]

Many other studies have investigated the pain caused by circumcision, and the effectiveness of different forms of analgesia and anaesthesia.

Taddio et al reported behavioural changes (heightened pain responses) during vaccinations in children circumcised with EMLA cream and with no anaethesia at the 99.9+% statistical confidence level (p<0.001) four to six months after their circumcision, suggesting a persistent effect on pain response. [38] The researchers commented:

"Study of the vaccination pain response of infants who had received more effective circumcision pain management (i.e., dorsal penile nerve block and adequate postoperative pain management) would be interesting."

Kirya and Werthmann investigated the effect of dorsal penile nerve block (DPNB), describing it as "painless".[39] However, Lander et al found that DPNB is less effective than ring block.[40]

Marshall et al report that the stress of neonatal circumcision may alter feeding behaviour and some male infants may be unable to breastfeed after circumcision.[41] They commented:

Despite differences between control and experimental infants shortly after surgery, by 24 h post-operatively no significant differences were observed between the groups. The behavioral effects of circumcision in the present study were immediate but brief. This should be comforting information to those who provide care for newborns and for their parents.[42]

Marshall et al did not report whether anaesthesia was used. Fergusson et al. found no evidence in their study of an association between neonatal circumcision and breastfeeding. They concluded that "the findings do not support the view that neonatal circumcision disrupts breastfeeding."[49]

Emotional consequences

Moses et al. (1998) state that "scientific evidence is lacking" for psychological and emotional harm, and cite a longitudinal study finding no difference in developmental and behavioural indices.[50] Goldman (1999) discussed the possible trauma of circumcision on children and parents, anxieties over the circumcised state, a tendency to repeat the trauma, and suggested a need on the part of circumcised doctors to find medical justifications for the procedure.[51] Some organizations have formed support groups for men who are resentful about being circumcised.[52]

Possible protections gained by circumcision

Prostate cancer

Prostate cancer rates vary greatly. They are lowest in South and East Asia, higher in Europe - though the rates vary widely between countries - and highest in the United States [43]. In the USA, prostate cancer is the second most common male cancer, with a lifetime risk of 1 in 6 and rising.[44]. According to the American Cancer Society, prostate cancer is least common in Asian men, more common in European men and most common in Black men [45] [46]. However, these high rates may reflect increased detection rates [47].

Neither the American Cancer Society nor the professional medical organizations' policy statements on circumcision cited here mention a relationship between circumcision and prostate cancer.

Early ecological studies suggested that circumcision may have a protective effect against prostate cancer. Ravich and Ravich [N Y State J Med. 1951 Jun 15;51(12):1519-20.] reported that in patients operated on for prostatic obstruction, 1.8% of obstructions in Jews were cancerous, compared with 19% in non-Jews. [48] Ecological studies are considered unreliable but later case-control studies obtained results as follows:

Ross et al. [J of the National Cancer Institute. 1987 May;78(5):869-74] reported on two case-control studies in Southern California. Both studies included 142 cases and both found that circumcised men were at reduced risk (relative risk of 0.5 in whites and 0.6 in blacks).[49]

Mandel & Schuman [J Gerontology. 1987 May;42(3):259-64].reported on a case-control study with 250 cases. Compared with controls drawn from their neighborhood, circumcised men were less likely to develop prostate cancer (odds ratio 0.82). [50]

Ewings & Bowie [Br J Cancer. 1996 Aug;74(4):661-6] performed a case-control study of 159 cases of prostate cancer, and found that circumcised men were at a reduced risk (odds ratio 0.62) [51]. They noted: "...some statistically significant associations were found, although these can only be viewed as hypothesis generating in this context."

Human Papilloma Virus (HPV)

Several studies have shown that uncircumcised men are at greater risk of human papilloma virus (HPV) infection, including a study of healthy Mexican military men [53] and Castellsagué et al (2002), who found that male circumcision correlated with a reduced risk of penile human papillomavirus (HPV) infection in the man and of cervical cancer in his female partner if the man had had more than six sexual partners.[54] That study was criticized on methodological grounds.[52] [53] but Baldwin et al (2004) [54] also found less HPV infection in circumcised men in their sample.

Some genital HPV strains some can cause genital warts, cervical or penile Cancer [55]. One study found no statistically significant difference in HPV infection between circumcised and uncircumcised men, but did note a significantly higher incidence of urethritis in the uncircumcised.[55]

HPV and cervical cancer

Is smegma carcinogenic? Pratt-Thomas et al. in 1956, found that horse smegma had a carcinogenic effect on laboratory mice[citation needed] and Heins et al, 1958 found that human smegma also had a carcinogenic effect on mice. [56] However, Reddy and Baruah (1963) were unable to reproduce this effect, and they concluded that the carcinogenic effect must be weak. Wynder (1964) was uncertain about the connection between male circumcision, smegma and cervical cancer [57]. In 2006 Van Howe and Hodges described and discussed human smegma, asserting that the claims of harm in it were a myth that "has evolved over time and with retelling."[58]

Some medical researchers have found evidence of a link between a higher incidence of cervical cancer in female partners of uncircumcised men and a higher incidence of penile human papillomavirus (HPV) in uncircumcised men. [59] [60] [54]

Stern and Neely (1962) observed no protective effect of male circumcision in female partners. [61], Punyaratabandhu et al. (1982) reported a protective effect in Thai women [62], Kjaer et al. (1991) reported an apparently protective effect in Dutch women, that failed to achieve statistical significance.[63] and Agarwal et al. (1993) observed a significantly protective effect among Indian women.[64].

The role of male circumcision in female infection with HPV remains controversial. As Castellsagué (2002) said, " would not make sense to promote circumcision as a way to control cervical cancer in the United States, where Pap smears usually detect it at a treatable stage." An HPV vaccine that is effective against the two strains of HPV that are responsible for 70% of the cases of cervical cancer is now being distributed [65].

In 2000, cervical cancer deaths in Great Britain were 3.9 per 100,000 patient-years, 3.3 in the USA, 2.8 in Canada, and 2.4 in Australia. [66] In Great Britain, cancer deaths in women under 35 had tripled between 1967 and 1987. Gilham et al found that national cervical screening prevented many deaths from cervical cancer by reversing that trend. In their estimation, one in 65 of all British women born since 1950 would have died from cancer of the cervix without the screenings [67].

Penile cancer

Main article: Penile cancer

Penile cancer is a rare form of Cancer. Annually, there is one case in 100 000 men in developed countries. [68] [69] The overall five-year survival rate for all stages of penile cancer is about 50 per cent.

One 1980 study estimated that the lifetime risk of an uncircumcised man developing invasive penile cancer (IPC) is one in 600 [70]. This was more than 3 times higher than for males neonatally circumcised. [71] [72] [73]

Most cases of penile cancer occur in men over the age of 70. Childhood circumcision has been associated with a reduced incidence of penile cancer in numerous studies. [74] [75] [76] [77] [78] [79] [56] Boczko and Freed (1979) stated that since Wolbarst's 1932 review, "there have been only eight documented cases of penile carcinoma in an individual circumcised in infancy." They described the ninth reported case, concluding that "performing it in infancy continues to be the most effective prophylactic measure against penile carcinoma."[57] The AMA remarked that in six case series published from 1932 and 1986, "all penile cancers occurred in uncircumcised individuals."[2] Maden et al (1993) reported that the risk of penile cancer was 3.2 times greater in men who were never circumcised and 3 times greater among those who were circumcised after the neonatal period.[58] An editorial by Holly and Palefsky complimented the study for noting other risk factors for penile cancer, and also for providing corroborating evidence as to the association between a lack of neonatal circumcision and the development of penile cancer. However, they criticised include the study for combining data from invasive and in situ cancers. They concluded that as Maden reported that 20% of the men with penile cancer were circumcised at birth, the recommendation of circumcision for medical indications remained somewhat controversial and the risks and benefits must be weighed.[59] The American Academy of Pediatrics made similar criticism, also noting the possibly inaccurate use of self-report to determine circumcision status.[20] Schoen et al studied the association between neonatal circumcision and invasive penile cancer in 2000, and found that the relative risk for uncircumcised men was 22 times that of circumcised men.[60]

The American Cancer Society states that “In the United States, men who are circumcised in childhood have a lower rate of penile cancer. It’s not known whether this is due to the absence of the foreskin or other lifestyle factors. Recent studies have found that circumcised men are less likely to be infected with HPV, even after this risk is adjusted for differences in sexual behavior. Circumcision has been associated with a lower incidence of Human Papilloma Virus infection in males in several studies. HPV infection is a known risk factor in the development of penile cancer.[80] [81] [82] [83] Other studies suggest that circumcision may reduce the risk of more invasive forms of penile cancer.”, “In weighing the risks and benefits of circumcision, doctors consider the fact that penile cancer is one of the least common forms of cancer in the United States” and “Ultimately, decisions about circumcision are highly personal and depend more on social and religious factors than on medical evidence”. They state that it is important to concentrate on the main risk factors: poor hygiene, having unprotected sex with multiple partners, and cigarette smoking.[61] They also state that the current consensus of most experts is that circumcision should not be recommended as a prevention strategy for penile cancer.[62]

The American Academy of Pediatrics (1999) stated that studies suggest that neonatal circumcision confers some protection from penile cancer, but circumcision at a later age does not seem to confer the same level of protection. Further, penile cancer is a rare disease and the risk of penile cancer developing in an uncircumcised man, although increased compared with a circumcised man, remains low.[20] Similarly, the American Medical Association states that although neonatal circumcision seems to lower the risk of contracting penile cancer, because it is rare and occurs later in life, the use of circumcision as a preventive practice is not justified.[2]

Kochen and McCurdy performed a life table analysis on penile cancer rates. They assumed that penile cancer occurred only in uncircumcised males and that the rates from older groups applied to the 1971 birth cohort.[63] They estimated a rate of 1 in 600, or 0.167% in uncircumcised males, with a median age of occurrence of 67 years. They stated, “Since the uncircumcised male is uniquely susceptible, virtually all of these cancers are preventable by neo-natal circumcision. The number of lifetime incident cancers that could be prevented annually by circumcision can be estimated with birth statistics available for 1971. In that year, there were 1,822,910 recorded live male births. If none had been neonatally circumcised, our analysis predicts that one in 600, or more than 3,000 would have penile cancer in their lifetimes.”[63]

The Medical College of Georgia is now studying the impact of the new vaccine against "HPV types 16 and 18, the two most common causes of cervical and penile cancer" [84]

Positions of medical organisations

The American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Association of Family Physicians, Royal Australasian College of Physicians, and the Canadian Paediatric Society state that circumcision reduces the risk of penile cancer.

The American Medical Association and the Royal Australasian College of Physicians both stated that the use of infant circumcision to prevent penile cancer alone in adulthood is not justified. [85] [86]

The American Cancer Society stated::

In the past, circumcision has been suggested as a way to prevent penile cancer. This suggestion was based on studies that reported much lower penile cancer rates among circumcised men than among uncircumcised men. However, most researchers now believe those studies were flawed because they failed to consider other factors that are now known to affect penile cancer risk [87].
(last revised 10 March 2006)

Elsewhere, the ACS stated:

Whether circumcision actually reduces risk is uncertain.
One line of reasoning is based on comparisons of risk across countries. Penile cancer is much less common in Israel, where nearly everyone is circumcised, than in the United States where only some men are. However, this comparison does not take into account other known risk factors such as the number of sexual partners, smoking, or personal hygiene. Furthermore, the risk of penile cancer in Denmark, where very few men are circumcised, is no higher than that in the United States [88].


Recent studies have found that circumcised men are less likely to be infected with HPV, even after this risk is adjusted for differences in sexual behavior. Other studies suggest that circumcision may reduce the risk of more invasive forms of penile cancer. However, it is important that the issue of circumcision not distract the public's attention from avoiding known penile cancer risk factors – poor hygiene, having unprotected sex with multiple partners (increasing the likelihood of human papillomavirus infection), and cigarette smoking. [89]
(last revised 10 March 2006)


Phimosis is the inability to retract the prepuce over the glans penis after separation from the glans has occurred. The foreskin is joined to the glans, and is naturally unretractable when a baby is born. But there are differences of opinion about how long this should continue, and how the foreskin should be treated if it remains too tight for too long. Gairdner [90] published data regarding the age of first foreskin retraction in 1949 that is now thought by some to be incorrect. However, these data are still presented in medical textbooks and taught in medical schools.[91] Many doctors, therefore, are misinformed about the natural development of the foreskin, and this contributes to the mis-diagnosis of the normal non-retractile foreskin of childhood as pathological disease. Rickwood and Walker (1989) raised concern that phimosis is frequently misdiagnosed by physicians confusing it with the developmentally non-retractable foreskin.,[64] and Rickwood et al. write in their 2000 paper "Towards evidence based circumcision of English boys" in the British Medical Journal [92]:

Too many English boys, especially those under 5 years of age, are still being circumcised because of misdiagnosis of phimosis. What is phimosis? At birth, the foreskin is almost invariably non-retractable, but this state is transient and resolves in nearly all boys as they mature through puberty. Such normality, with an unscarred and pliant preputial orifice, is clearly distinguishable from pathological phimosis, a condition unambiguously characterised by secondary cicatrisation of the orifice, usually due to balanitis xerotica obliterans. This problem, the only absolute indication for circumcision, affects some 0.6% of boys, peaks in incidence at 11 years of age, and is rarely encountered before the age of 5. (...) Strictly, only some 0.6% of boys with pathological phimosis need to be circumcised, although more relaxed criteria would allow for a similar proportion affected by recurrent balanoposthitis.

A 1968 Danish study of 9,545 boys, which distinguished between phimosis and preputial adhesion, found that both conditions steadily declined with age. Phimosis was 8% among 6-7 year olds but only 1% among 16-17 year olds. Similarly, preputial adhesion was 63% among 6-7 year olds but only 3% among 16-17 year olds. The author, Jakob Øster, concluded:

Phimosis is seen to be uncommon in schoolboys, and the indications for operation even rarer if the normal development of the prepuce is patiently awaited. When this policy is pursued, in the majority of cases of phimosis, it is seen to be a physiological condition which gradually disappears as the tissues develop. [93]

It has been observed that Øster's study may not be representative of wider populations. [94] The true incidence of phimosis is controversial. Osmond found that 14% of British soldiers had phimosis, and Schoeberlein noted that 9.2% of uncircumcised German men had phimosis [95]. Reporting on a New Zealand study, Fergusson et al found that 3.7% of boys had phimosis,[65] while Herzog and Alvarez found it in 2.6%. [96] Dawson and Whitfield, say "True phimosis is rare but may cause appreciable problems in either childhood or adolescence."[97] The AAP state that the true frequency of problems such as phimosis is unknown.[20]

Several researchers have described less invasive treatments for phimosis than circumcision, and recommend that they be tried first.[66][67] Several studies have identified phimosis as a risk factor for penile cancer. A letter to the British Medical Journal stated it would be irresponsible to expose a patient to risk for longer than necessary.[68]

Phimosis is also a complication of circumcision, that can occur when too little foreskin is removed.[98]

Images of phimosis.[99][100][101]

Circumcision and Urinary tract infection (UTI)

Infections of the urinary tract (kidneys, ureters, bladder and urethra) can lead to kidney damage if undetected, but can generally be treated effectively with antibiotics. Twelve studies have indicated that neonatal circumcision reduces the rate of Urinary tract infections in male infants by a factor of about 10.[69] According to the American Medical Association, "There is little doubt that the uncircumcised infant is at higher risk for urinary tract infection (UTI)."

Some of these studies have been extensively criticized for their methodology. The American Academy of Pediatrics noted in its 1999 circumcision policy statement:

Few of the studies that have evaluated the association between UTI in male infants and circumcision status have looked at potential confounders (such as prematurity, breastfeeding, and method of urine collection) in a rigorous way. For example, because premature infants appear to be at increased risk for UTI, the inclusion of hospitalized premature infants in a study population may act as a confounder by suggesting an increased risk of UTI in uncircumcised infants. Premature infants usually are not circumcised because of their fragile health status. In another example, breastfeeding was shown to have a threefold protective effect on the incidence of UTI in a sample of uncircumcised infants. However, breastfeeding status has not been evaluated systematically in studies assessing UTI and circumcision status.[20]

(Studies have found that 1 in 10 premature infants will have a urinary tract infection during the first month of life. [102])

A 1998 Canadian population based cohort study by To et al. [103] reported a relative risk of 3.7. The overall incidence of UTIs in infants was low, 1.88 and 7.02 per 1000 respectively.

More recently, randomized controlled trials [104] and other studies have confirmed the protective effect of circumcision [105] [106] [107].

UTIs are usually detected through urine tests. Depending on the method of urine collection, there is a varying risk of false positives through contamination. The bacteria detected may in fact come from the foreskin itself, not the urinary tract. In spite of this, an increased risk of UTI in uncircumcised males is generally considered plausible, a higher likelihood of bacterial colonization being the proposed mechanism.

However, studies of UTI and circumcision do not classify groups of circumcised males according to their mothers' handling of the foreskin, making it impossible to infer any link with specific hygienic practices. It is generally recommended not to retract the foreskin of an infant during hygiene [108]. The Canadian Paediatric Society questions whether increased UTI and balanitis rates in uncircumcised male infants may be caused by forced premature retraction.[22] Hodges and Fleiss claim that "it has been proven that retraction and washing of the infant foreskin can cause urinary tract infections by irritating the mucous membranes and destroying the naturally occurring beneficial flora which protects against pathogens." More recent research has shown that in fact fewer pathogens are present in circumcised males.[109]

Lerman and Liao state that apart from its effects on UTI infection rates, "Most of the other medical benefits of circumcision probably can be realized without circumcision as long as access to clean water and proper penile hygiene are achieved."[70]

UTIs in boys are most common during the first years of life [110]. A Swedish study found that the cumulative incidence of UTIs in boys under 2 years of age was 2.2%.[71] The AMA cites evidence that the incidence of UTI’s is “small (0.4%–1%)” in uncircumcised infants, and “depending on the model employed, approximately 100 to 200 circumcisions would need to be performed to prevent 1 UTI…One model of decision analysis concluded that the incidence of UTI would have to be substantially higher in uncircumcised males to justify circumcision as a preventive measure against this condition.”[2]

Based upon their data, To et al. estimate that 195 circumcisions would be needed to prevent one hospital admission for UTI in the first year of life.

Circumcision and HIV/AIDS


In 1989 the Cameron study [72] was published and reported an 8.2 times higher risk of HIV infection among uncircumcised men. Since then some 38 studies have covered the issue of the protective effect accruing through male circumcision against female-to-male HIV transmission through vaginal sex. A recent study in Rakai, Uganda also observed a 30% reduction in male-to-female HIV transmission [111], suggesting some protective effect for the female partner as well. There is no evidence yet, however, of a protective effect against transmission from the active partner to the passive partner in homosexual oral or anal intercourse.

Changedia and Gilada (2002) reported that "Though circumcision offers protection in acquisition of HIV infection, our findings reveal that it does not reduce transmission of HIV in conjugal settings."[112] Hunter et al. (1994), however, report that "Women whose husband or usual sex partner was uncircumcised had a threefold increase in risk of HIV, and this risk was present in almost all strata of potential confounding factors."[113] Fonck et al. (2000) reported that "Partners of circumcised men had less-prevalent HIV infection."[114]

The USAID document Male Circumcision:Current Epidemiological and Field Evidence summarized research as at September 2002. It states:

A systematic review and meta-analysis of 28 published studies by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, published in the journal AIDS in 2000, found that circumcised men are less than half as likely to be infected by HIV as uncircumcised men. A subanalysis of 10 African studies found a 71 percent reduction among higher-risk men. A September 2002 update considered the results of these 28 studies plus an additional 10 studies and, after controlling for various potentially confounding religious, cultural, behavioral, and other factors, had similarly robust findings. Recent laboratory studies in Chicago found HIV uptake in the inner foreskin tissue to be up to nine times more efficient than in a control sample of cervical tissue.[115]

However, the Cochrane Library for Evidence-based Medicine's review of the data (2004) reported:

We found insufficient evidence to support an interventional effect of male circumcision on HIV acquisition in heterosexual men. The results from existing observational studies show a strong epidemiological association between male circumcision and prevention of HIV, especially among high-risk groups. However, observational studies are inherently limited by confounding which is unlikely to be fully adjusted for. In the light of forthcoming results from RCTs, the value of IPD analysis of the included studies is doubtful. The results of these trials will need to be carefully considered before circumcision is implemented as a public health intervention for prevention of sexually transmitted HIV.[116]

Nevertheless, the positive results of observational studies suggested that circumcision was "worth evaluating in randomised controlled trials.”[73] (See the "Recent results" section below for results of these trials.)

Both UNAIDS and the Centers for Disease Control of the United States Public Health Service recommend that male circumcision should now be recognized as an efficacious intervention for HIV prevention and they are promoting that male circumcision should be recognized as an additional, important strategy for the prevention of heterosexually acquired HIV infection in men.

Connolly et al. (2004) studied the effects of circumcision in South Africa. They report that, among racial groups, "circumcised Blacks showed similar rates of HIV as uncircumcised Blacks, (OR: 0.8, p = 0.4) however other racial groups showed a strong protective effect, (OR: 0.3, p = 0.01)." They added "When the data are further stratified by age of circumcision, there is a slight protective effect between early circumcision and HIV among Blacks, OR: 0.7, p = 0.4." They conclude that "in general, circumcision offers slight protection."[117]

Thomas et al. (2004) report that "male circumcision is not associated with HIV or STI prevention in a U.S. Navy population."[118]

Other researchers have contested the findings which indicate that circumcision reduces HIV transmission. For example, Van Howe, an anti-circumcision campaigner, produced a meta-analysis which presented circumcised men at a greater risk for HIV infection. He further speculated that circumcision may be responsible for the increased number of partners, and therefore, the increased risk. Van Howe's work was reviewed by O'Farrell and Egger who found methodological flaws in his work.

Weiss, Quigley and Hayes carried out a new meta-analysis on circumcision and HIV and found as follows:

Male circumcision is associated with a significantly reduced risk of HIV infection among men in sub-Saharan Africa, particularly those at high risk of HIV. These results suggest that consideration should be given to the acceptability and feasibility of providing safe services for male circumcision as an additional HIV prevention strategy in areas of Africa where men are not traditionally circumcised.

There are other studies of note. Kelly et al. reported in "Age of male circumcision and risk of prevalent HIV infection in rural Uganda" that circumcision before the age of 12 resulted in a reduction to 0.39 of the odds of being infected. The degree of protection varied with the age at which circumcision was performed. Those circumcised at between 13 and 20 years had an odds ratio of 0.46, and those circumcised after the age of 20 at an odds ratio of 0.78. They concluded: "Prepubertal circumcision is associated with reduced HIV risk, whereas circumcision after age 20 years is not significantly protective against HIV-1 infection."

With regard to the effects of behaviour on infection risk Buvé in USAID funded multi-site study on behalf of UNAIDS found that "In conclusion, differences in the rate of HIV spread between the East African and West African cities studied cannot be explained away by differences in sexual behaviour alone. In fact, behavioural differences seem to be outweighed by differences in HIV transmission probability."

Bailey reported [119]:

These results suggest that differences between circumcised and uncircumcised men in their sex practices and hygienic behaviors do not account for the higher risk of HIV infection found among uncircumcised men. Further consideration should be given to male circumcision as a prevention strategy in areas of high prevalence of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. Studies of the feasibility and acceptability of male circumcision in traditionally noncircumcising societies are warranted.

Kiwanuka et al. (1996) studied the relationship between religion and HIV in Rural Uganda and concluded: "Lower rates of HIV infection among Pentecostals appear to be associated with less alcohol consumption, sexual abstinence and fewer sexual partners, whereas the low HIV prevalence in Muslims appears to be associated with low reported alcohol consumption and male circumcision." Muslims, despite having the lowest rate of sexual abstinence and the highest rate of having two or more sexual partners, had the lowest level of HIV infection compared with the other religious groups in the study (Catholics, Protestants, and Pentecostals). The factor in common between the Muslims (14.5% seropositive) and the Pentecostals (14.6% seropositive) was the lower alcohol consumption rate in these two groups than amongst Protestants (19.2%) and Catholics (19.9%).

Studies have also been carried out as to the acceptability of male circumcison within traditionally non-circumcising communities. Kebaabetswe found that:

Male circumcision appears to be highly acceptable in Botswana. The option for safe circumcision should be made available to parents in Botswana for their male children. Circumcision might also be an acceptable option for adults and adolescents, if its efficacy as an HIV prevention strategy among sexually active people is supported by clinical trials.

Lagarde found that "More than 70% of the non-circumcised men (NCM) stated that they would want to be circumcised if MC were proved to protect against sexually transmitted diseases (STD)." Lagarde cautioned that "Our results strongly suggest that interventions including MC should carefully address the false sense of security that it may provide."

Bailey in his study [74] looked at the possible adverse effects of introducing male circumcision on a public health scale and the post operative satisfaction levels of 380 circumcsions on 18-24 year old consenting men. As to satisfaction; "At 30 days post-surgery, 99.3% of men reported being very satisfied and 0.7% somewhat satisfied with circumcision. None were dissatisfied." And with regard to adverse effects; "All were mild or moderate and resolved within hours or several days of detection."

In a recently published study in this regard in The Lancet, Male circumcision and risk (2004) of HIV-1 and other sexually transmitted infections in India, Reynolds and Bollinger found that male circumcision was strongly protective against HIV-1 infection with circumcised men being almost seven times less at risk of HIV infection than uncircumcised men.[120] They further state that:

"The specificity of this relation suggests a biological rather than behavioural explanation for the protective effect of male circumcision against HIV-1."

Baeten et al in a study published in The Journal of Infectious Diseases in 2005 found that uncircumcised men were at a greater than two-fold increased risk of acquiring HIV per sex act when compared with circumcised men. They conclude as follows:

"Moreover, our results strengthen the substantial body of evidence suggesting that variation in the prevalence of male circumcision may be a principal contributor to the spread of HIV-1 in Africa."

Newell and Bärnighausen (2007) also stated there was "firm evidence that the risk of acquiring HIV is halved by male circumcision."[75][76][77] However, Garenne (2006) doubted its value in reducing HIV.[78] and Talbott (2007), in a controversial paper [121] stated that cross country regression data pointed to prostitution as the key factor in the AIDS epidemic rather than circumcision.[79] A World Health Organization AIDS Prevention Team official Tim Farley disagreed with the findings of the paper, while Chris Surridge, PLoS One's managing editor, defended its publication.[80] In 1999 the American Medical Association had stated, "behavioral factors are far more important in preventing these infections than the presence or absence of a foreskin."[2]

Despite evidence of a significant protective effect of infant male circumcision, "male circumcision should not be actively promoted for HIV prevention unless and until the RCTs (Randomized controlled trials) confirm MC to be effective in reducing HIV infection".[122]

Millett et al in a study published in The Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes in 2007 found no association in three major US cities between circumcision and HIV infection among Latino and black men who have sex with men (MSM) . They conclude as follows:

"In these cross-sectional data, there was no evidence that being circumcised was protective against HIV infection among black MSM or Latino MSM."

If proper hygienic procedures are not adhered to, the circumcision operation itself can spread HIV. Brewer et al. (2007)[81] report, "[circumcised] male and female virgins were substantially more likely to be HIV infected than uncircumcised virgins. Among adolescents, regardless of sexual experience, circumcision was just as strongly associated with prevalent HIV infection. However, uncircumcised adults were more likely to be HIV positive than circumcised adults." They concluded: "HIV transmission may occur through circumcision-related blood exposures in eastern and southern Africa."

Randomised Controlled Trials

Three randomised control trials published since 2005 state that adult male circumcision results in a 50-60% reduction in risk of HIV transmission (from female to male) during heterosexual intercourse.[82] Trial periods ranged from 18 months to 24 months. One of the trials was cancelled on July 6, 2005 when the study's preliminary results, disclosed by the Wall Street Journal, reported that circumcision reduced the risk of contracting HIV by 70 percent. According to the newspaper account, the study in Orange Farm township, South Africa, was stopped because the results were so favorable it was deemed unethical to continue. [123]

The final results were published in November 2005. It found a 60% reduction in the rate of new HIV infection (from 2.1 per 100 to 0.85 per 100 in the intervention group. The authors said, “Male circumcision provides a degree of protection against acquiring HIV infection, equivalent to what a vaccine of high efficacy would have achieved. Male circumcision may provide an important way of reducing the spread of HIV infection in sub-Saharan Africa.”[83]

A recent analysis of the potential impact of circumcision on HIV in Africa, based upon the results of the South African RCT, suggested that male circumcision could substantially reduce the burden of HIV in Africa, particularly in southern Africa where the existing prevalence of male circumcision is low and the existing prevalence of HIV is high. More specifically it predicted that if full coverage with MC was achieved in sub-Saharan Africa over the next ten years, MC could prevent approximately 2.0 (1.1 to 3.8) million new HIV infections over that ten year period and a further 3.7 million in the ten years after that.[84]

The above conclusions drawn from the Orange Farm study have also been criticised by Michel Garenne (2006) of the Institut Pasteur. In his critique, published on the PLoS Journal of Medicine, he states: "Concluding that 'male circumcision should be regarded as an important public health intervention for preventing the spread of HIV' appears overstated. Even though large-scale male circumcision could avert a number of HIV infections, theoretical calculations and empirical evidence show that it is unlikely to have a major public health impact, apart from the fact that achieving universal male circumcision is likely to be more difficult than universal vaccination coverage or universal contraceptive use." [124].

Mills and Siegfried (2006) point out that trials that are stopped early tend to over estimate treatment effects. They argue that a meta-analysis should be done before further feasibility studies are done.[125]

Two more randomized controlled trials (RCT's) in Kenya and Uganda are now completed. These trials were stopped early on December 13, 2006 on grounds that circumcision was so effective that it would be unethical to continue the experiment and not offer circumcision in the uncircumcised men who were acting as controls. In Uganda, circumcision was found to have a 51-60% protective effect.[77] In Kenya, circumcision was found to have a 53-60% protective effect.[76] These studies were terminated early because "an interim review of trial data revealed that medically performed circumcision significantly reduces a man’s risk of acquiring HIV through heterosexual intercourse."[126]

On Wednesday, March 28, 2007, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNAIDS issued joint recommendations concerning male circumcision and HIV/AIDS. [85] These recommendations are:

  • Male circumcision should now be recognized as an efficacious intervention for HIV prevention.
  • Promoting male circumcision should be recognized as an additional, important strategy for the prevention of heterosexually acquired HIV infection in men.[86]

Kim Dickson, coordinator of the working group that authored the report, commented:[127]

  • Male circumcision "would have greatest impact" in countries where the HIV infection rate among heterosexual males is greater than 15 percent and fewer than 20 percent of males are circumcised.
  • WHO further recommends that the procedure must be done by a trained physician.
  • Protection is incomplete and men must continue to use condoms and have fewer partners.
  • Newly circumcised men should abstain from sex for at least six weeks.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said: “Although these results demonstrate that male circumcision reduces the risk of men becoming infected with HIV, the UN agencies emphasize that it does not provide complete protection against HIV infection. Circumcised men can still become infected with the virus and, if HIV-positive, can infect their sexual partners. Male circumcision should never replace other known effective prevention methods and should always be considered as part of a comprehensive prevention package, which includes correct and consistent use of male or female condoms, reduction in the number of sexual partners, delaying the onset of sexual relations, and HIV testing and counselling.”.[82] Others have also expressed concern that some may mistakenly believe they will be fully protected against HIV through circumcision and see circumcision as a safe alternative to other forms of protection, such as condoms.[87][88] An interim analysis from the Rakai Health Sciences Program in Uganda suggested that newly circumcised HIV positive men may be more likely to spread HIV to their female partners if they have sexual intercourse before the wound is fully healed. “Because the total number of men who resumed sex before certified wound healing is so small, the finding of increased transmission after surgery may have occurred by chance alone. However, we need to err on the side of caution to protect women in the context of any future male circumcision programme,” said Dr Maria Wawer, the study's principal investigator.[89]

In assessing the impact of circumcision on the spread of sexually transmatted infections including HIV it must always be borne in mind that there are other risk factors. Thus, the United States has a high rate of STD infection and a high rate of circumcision compared with other advanced countries. [128]

Langerhans cells and HIV transmission

Langerhans cells are part of the human immune system. Three studies identified high concentrations of Langerhans and other "HIV target" cells in the foreskin[90][91][92] and Szabo and Short suggested that the Langerhans cells in the foreskin may provide an entry point for viral infection.[93] McCoombe, Cameron, and Short also found that the keratin is thinnest on the foreskin and frenulum.[94] Fleiss, Hodges and Van Howe had previously stated a belief that the prepuce has an immunological function.[95] While their specific hypothesis was criticised on technical grounds.[96] a study published in 2007 by de Witte and others said that langerin, produced by Langerhans cells, is a natural barrier to HIV-1 transmission by Langerhans cells.[97]

Epididymitis in children

Epididymitis is inflammation of the epididymis. It can be very painful, and become a chronic condition, but medical treatment is well accepted and effective. [129] [130]. One 1998 study found the rate of epididymitis in boys with foreskins was significantly higher than in those without; that an intact foreskin is an important etiological factor in boys with epididymitis.

Penile problems in boys up to 8 years of age

A 1988 New Zealand study of penile problems by Fergusson et al, in a birth cohort of more than 500 children from birth to 8 years of age found that:

By 8 years, circumcised children had a rate of 11.1 problems per 100 children, and uncircumcised children had a rate of 18.8 per 100. The majority of these problems were for penile inflammation including balanitis, meatitis, and inflammation of the prepuce. However, the relationship between risks of penile problems and circumcision status varied with the child's age. During infancy, circumcised children had a significantly higher risk of problems than uncircumcised children, but after infancy the rate of penile problems was significantly higher among the uncircumcised. These associations were not changed when the results were adjusted statistically for the effects of a series of potentially confounding social and perinatal factors. [131]

The authors of this study acknowledged certain problem with the data:

It is important to recognize that the data on medical attendance for penile problems was collected as part of a much larger longitudinal study of child health and development in which the primary concern was not with the issue of the longterm consequences of circumcision. This feature of the data collection process places a number of restrictions on the quality of the collected data. Specifically, data relating to immediate postcircumcision problems and penile problems that were treated at home without medical attention were not available. Also, diagnostic details of medical attendances for penile problems were limited. The net result of these imprecisions in the data collection process is that the incidence and prevalence of penile problems probably underestimated and the problems can only be described in terms of broad diagnostic categories. Nonetheless, we believe that the trends that emerge from the analysis are likely to reflect general differences in the medical histories of circumcised and uncircumcised children.[132]

Van Howe observed that Fergusson et al. used parental complaints rather than direct examination in their retrospective study, so the study may have understated the number of boys with penile problems.[133]


The American Academy of Family Physicians says:

"Paraphimosis is a urologic emergency, occurring in uncircumcised males, in which the foreskin becomes trapped behind the corona and forms a tight band of constricting tissue. Often iatrogenically induced, paraphimosis can be prevented by returning the prepuce to cover the glans following penile manipulation. Treatment often begins with reduction of edema, followed by a variety of options, including mechanical compression, pharmacologic therapy, puncture technique and dorsal slit. Prevention and early intervention are key elements in the management of paraphimosis. (Am Fam Physician 2000;62:2623-6,2628.)"[134]

The article goes on to say that the cause is most often iatrogenic (caused by doctors). It further stated:

"Rare causes of paraphimosis include self-inflicted injury to the penis (such as piercing a penile ring into the glans) and paraphimosis secondary to penile erections."

In children, it is sometimes caused by a caregiver trying to forcibly retract the infant foreskin.[26]

Several techniques to treat paraphimosis are listed in an article in the American Family Physician, and in the anti-circumcision web site CIRP. [135] One procedure is minor surgery to make a small slit in the foreskin without removing any tissue.[136] Another is called the "Dundee technique." [137] The Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne, Australia, says, "Once reduced, a single episode of paraphimosis is not an indication for circumcision." [138] but an article in the American Family Physician says that paraphimosis is one of the medical indications for circumcision [139].

Images of paraphimosis. [140][141]


The American Academy of Pediatrics observes “Circumcision has been suggested as an effective method of maintaining penile hygiene since the time of the Egyptian dynasties, but there is little evidence to affirm the association between circumcision status and optimal penile hygiene.”[20][98] It states that the "relationship among hygiene, phimosis, and penile cancer is uncertain" and further remarks that "genital hygiene needs to be emphasized as a preventive health topic throughout a patient's lifetime."

The Royal Australasian College of Physicians emphasizes that the penis of an uncircumcised infant requires no special care and should be left alone. It states that attempts to forcibly retract the foreskin, e.g. to clean it, are painful, often injure the foreskin, and can lead to scarring, infections and pathologic phimosis.[99]

Smegma is a combination of exfoliated epithelial cells, transudated skin oils, and moisture that can accumulate under the foreskin of males and within the female vulva area. It is common to all mammals—male and female. In rare cases, accumulating smegma may help cause balanitis.[100]

Hutson speculated that circumcision arose in peoples living in arid and sandy regions as a public health measure intended to prevent recurring irritation and infection caused by sand accumulating under the foreskin.[101] Darby, after checking the official war histories of Britain, Australia and New Zealand and other records, and finding no mention of ‘balanitis’ or ‘foreskin’ or ‘circumcision’, dismissed this idea as a “medical urban myth,” concluding that “‘sand under the foreskin,’ balanitis, and circumcision were not significant problems during either of the World Wars.”[102]

Infectious and chronic conditions

Studies have found that boys with foreskins tend to have higher rates of various infections and inflammations of the penis than those who are circumcised.[65][103][104] The reasons are unclear, but several hypotheses have been suggested:


Main article: Balanitis

Balanitis, an inflammation of the glans penis, has several causes.[107] Some of these, such as anaerobic infection, occur more frequently in uncircumcised men.[108] Balanitis involving the foreskin is called balanoposthitis. The usual treatment for balanoposthitis is to use topical antibiotics (metronidazole cream) and antifungals (clotrimazole cream) or low-potency steroid creams.[109] One study found that uncircumcised men had more than five times the rate of balanitis [142]. The most common complication of balanitis is phimosis, or inability to retract the foreskin from the glans penis.[143].

EMedicine says: "Uncircumcised men with poor personal hygiene are most affected by balanitis. Lack of aeration and irritation because of smegma and discharge surrounding the glans penis causes inflammation and edema. Adherence of the foreskin to the inflamed and edematous glans penis causes phimosis."[144] O'Farrell et al. noted inferior hygiene among uncircumcised men attending a sexually transmitted infections (STI) clinic at Ealing Hospital, London.[145] The researchers also reported an association between balanitis and inferior hygiene.

Balanitis has many causes, including irritation by environmental substances, physical trauma, and infection by a wide variety of pathogens, including bacteria, virus, yeast, or fungus — each of which require a particular treatment. Good medical practice includes careful diagnosis with the aid of a good patient history, swabs and cultures, and pathologic examination of a biopsy. Only then can the proper treatment be prescribed.[146] Many studies of balanitis do not examine the subjects' genital washing habits. A 1993 study by Birley et al. did so and found that excessive genital washing with soap may be a strong contributing factor to balanitis.[106]

Fakjian et al. studied 398 patients at a dermatology clinic in a cross-sectional study. 213 (53.5%) had been circumcised. "Balanitis was diagnosed in 2.3% of circumcised men and in 12.5% of uncircumcised men. In patients with diabetes mellitus, balanitis occurred with a prevalence of 34.8% in the uncircumcised population, compared with 0% in the circumcised population. Balanitis did occur with increased frequency in the diabetic population (16%), regardless of circumcision status, compared with the nondiabetic population (5.8%)." [147]

Treatments that are less invasive than circumcision are effective in treating most mild cases of balanitis.[107] Birley, et al., found that in 90% of their cases of chronic or recurring balanitis "use of emollient creams and restriction of soap washing alone controlled symptoms satisfactorily". They also state that circumcision “might be of benefit in a patient whose balanitis relapses despite these measures, and remains the principal treatment for specific conditions such as lichen sclerosus and plasma cell balanitis.”[106] The, less invasive procedures are not as successful in treating balanitis xerotica obliterans, or BXO,[110][111][112] which is much less common but harder to treat.[113] Balanitis xerotica obliterans is a skin condition causing white, atrophic patches on the glans or foreskin. It is much more common among uncircumcised males. Circumcision is believed to reliably reduce the threat of BXO.[114]

Lichen sclerosus et atrophicus (LSA) produces a whitish-yellowish patch on the skin, and is not believed to be always harmful or painful, and may sometimes disappear without intervention. Some consider balanitis xerotica obliterans to be a form of LSA that happens to be on the foreskin, where it may cause pathological phimosis.

Zoon's Balanitis, illustrated here, also known as Balanitis Circumscripta Plasmacellularis or plasma cell balanitis (PCB) is an idiopathic, rare, benign penile dermatosis, usually of a middle-aged or older man [148]. Circumcision is the usual treatment of choice but fusidic acid cream 2% has been curative in some cases. [149] [150]

Balanitis in childhood. Balanitis afflicts young boys generally only where a difficult to retract tight foreskin is present. Two studies found that uncircumcised boys were at approximately twice the risk of developing balanitis [151][152] Escala and Rickwood, in a 1989 examination of 100 cases of balanitis in childhood, concluded: "[T]he risk in any individual, uncircumcised boy appears to be no greater than 4%." [153], They recommend circumcision as a last resort only in cases of recurrent balanitis.[154]

Images of balanitis [155] [156] [157]

Skin diseases

Researchers from the Imperial College School of Medicine, Chelsea & Westminster Hospital, London, England in a study Circumcision and genital dermatoses reported the results of their study of 357 patients referred for genital skin disease:

Most cases of inflammatory dermatoses were diagnosed in uncircumcised men, suggesting that circumcision protects against inflammatory dermatoses. The presence of the foreskin may promote inflammation by a koebnerization phenomenon, or the presence of infectious agents, as yet unidentified, may induce inflammation. The data suggest that circumcision prevents or protects against common infective penile dermatoses.

Some American military doctors have recommended prophylactic circumcision because of the difficult conditions during wartime. For example, a United States Army report regarding World War II noted that in case of penile lesions, the foreskin may "invite secondary infection". The sexually transmitted disease chancroid, now very uncommon, was also associated with phimosis, which could hardly occur in circumcised males, and "soldiers in combat were seldom able to practice personal hygiene". (Source: JF Patton, Medical Department, United States Army, Surgery in World War II, Urology, p. 64)

There are a few cases of skin diseases such as staphyloccal scalded skin syndrome or impetigo following circumcision. [158][159]. One study found a difference in infection rates between circumcised and uncircumcised boys (p < 0.10) that was not statistically significant, "perhaps due to the relatively small number.." . [160]

Other Sexually transmitted infections

A recent systematic review [161] has suggested that there is strong evidence for a protective effect of circumcision against Syphilis or Chancroid infection, but only weak evidence for a protective effect against Herpes Simplex.

Costs and Benefits

The American Academy of Pediatrics (1999) said:

"Existing scientific evidence demonstrates potential medical benefits of newborn male circumcision; however, these data are not sufficient to recommend routine neonatal circumcision. In the case of circumcision, in which there are potential benefits and risks, yet the procedure is not essential to the child's current well-being, parents should determine what is in the best interest of the child." Policy Statement, 1999

Clarifying their statement in 2000, the authors explained:

The Task Force found the evidence of low incidence, high-morbidity problems not sufficiently compelling to recommend circumcision as a routine procedure for all newborn males. However, the Task Force did recommend making all parents aware of the potential benefits and risks of circumcision and leaving it to the family to decide whether circumcision is in the best interests of their child. ... Circumcision falls into that group of procedures that have potential medical benefits and some risks and should be evaluated by each family in the context of their personal beliefs and values as well as their ethnic, cultural, and religious practices. The Task Force respects the role of parents as decision-makers for their newborns and recommends that physicians discuss with parents the potential benefits as well as risks of circumcision so that parents can decide whether circumcision is in the child's best interests.

In June 2004 the College of Physicians and Surgeons of British Columbia said:

"Infant male circumcision was once considered a preventive health measure and was therefore adopted extensively in Western countries. Current understanding of the benefits, risks and potential harm of this procedure, however, no longer supports this practice for prophylactic health benefit. Routine infant male circumcision performed on a healthy infant is now considered a non-therapeutic and medically unnecessary intervention."[162]

Several cost-benefit analyses of infant circumcision have been published.

Cadman et al. (1984) concluded that the expense of circumcision outweighed any money that might be saved by reducing the risk of penile cancer. Therefore, they argued, public funds should not pay for it [163].
Lawler et al. (1991) [164] reported a net cost of $25.00 and a benefit of ten days of life. They concluded that there was no medical indication for or against circumcision.
Ganiats et al. (1991) [165] reported a net cost of $102 and a loss of 14 hours of healthy life. They found no medical reason to recommend for or against circumcision.
Chessare (1992) weighed the risks of circumcision against the prevention of urinary tract infections [166]. He concluded that non-circumcision produced the “highest expected utility”, provided that the probability of developing a UTI was less than 0.29%.
Christakis et al. (2000) report that "Circumcision remains a relatively safe procedure. However, for some parents, the risks we report may outweigh the potential benefits." [167]
Van Howe [115](2004) reported that the overall effect of male neonatal non-therapeutic circumcision on health is more likely to be negative rather than positive.
Schoen et al. (2006) concluded: "Multiple lifetime medical benefits of neonatal circumcision can be achieved at little or no cost. Because postneonatal circumcision is so expensive, its rate is the most important factor determining future cost savings from newborn circumcision." [116]

Some public and private health insurance providers have deleted coverage of elective non-therapeutic circumcision. In such cases, the cost falls on the person electing the procedure.

See also


  1. Task Force on Circumcision (March 1, 1999). "Circumcision Policy Statement" (PDF). Pediatrics 103 (3): 686–693. doi:10.1542/peds.103.3.686. PMID 10049981. ISSN 0031-4005 PMID 10049981. Retrieved on 2006-07-01.  “Existing scientific evidence demonstrates potential medical benefits of newborn male circumcision; however, these data are not sufficient to recommend routine neonatal circumcision. In the case of circumcision, in which there are potential benefits and risks, yet the procedure is not essential to the child’s current well-being, parents should determine what is in the best interest of the child. To make an informed choice, parents of all male infants should be given accurate and unbiased information and be provided the opportunity to discuss this decision. It is legitimate for parents to take into account cultural, religious, and ethnic traditions, in addition to the medical factors, when making this decision. Analgesia is safe and effective in reducing the procedural pain associated with circumcision; therefore, if a decision for circumcision is made, procedural analgesia should be provided. If circumcision is performed in the newborn period, it should only be done on infants who are stable and healthy.”
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 Report 10 of the Council on Scientific Affairs (I-99):Neonatal Circumcision. 1999 AMA Interim Meeting: Summaries and Recommendations of Council on Scientific Affairs Reports 17. American Medical Association (December 1999). Retrieved on 2006-06-13.
  3. Circumcision: Position Paper on Neonatal Circumcision. American Academy of Family Physicians (2007). Retrieved on 2007-01-30. “Considerable controversy surrounds neonatal circumcision. Putative indications for neonatal circumcision have included preventing UTIs and their sequelae, preventing the contraction of STDs including HIV, and preventing penile cancer as well as other reasons for adult circumcision. Circumcision is not without risks. Bleeding, infection, and failure to remove enough foreskin occur in less than 1% of circumcisions. Evidence-based complications from circumcision include pain, bruising, and meatitis. More serious complications have also occurred. Although numerous studies have been conducted to evaluate these postulates, only a few used the quality of methodology necessary to consider the results as high level evidence.

    The evidence indicates that neonatal circumcision prevents UTIs in the first year of life with an absolute risk reduction of about 1% and prevents the development of penile cancer with an absolute risk reduction of less than 0.2%. The evidence suggests that circumcision reduces the rate of acquiring an STD, but careful sexual practices and hygiene may be as effective. Circumcision appears to decrease the transmission of HIV in underdeveloped areas where the virus is highly prevalent. No study has systematically evaluated the utility of routine neonatal circumcision for preventing all medically-indicated circumcisions in later life. Evidence regarding the association between cervical cancer and a woman’s partner being circumcised or uncircumcised, and evidence regarding the effect of circumcision on sexual functioning is inconclusive. If the decision is made to circumcise, anesthesia should be used.

    The American Academy of Family Physicians recommends physicians discuss the potential harms and benefits of circumcision with all parents or legal guardians considering this procedure for their newborn son.”
  4. American Urological Association. Circumcision. Retrieved on 2007-08-26.
  5. Circumcision: Information for parents. Caring for kids. Canadian Paediatric Society (November 2004). Retrieved on 2006-10-24. “Circumcision is a “non-therapeutic” procedure, which means it is not medically necessary. Parents who decide to circumcise their newborns often do so for religious, social or cultural reasons. To help make the decision about circumcision, parents should have information about risks and benefits. It is helpful to speak with your baby’s doctor. After reviewing the scientific evidence for and against circumcision, the CPS does not recommend routine circumcision for newborn boys. Many paediatricians no longer perform circumcisions.”
  6. Fetus and Newborn Committee (March 1996). "Neonatal circumcision revisited". Canadian Medical Association Journal 154 (6): 769–780. Retrieved on 2006-07-02.  “We undertook this literature review to consider whether the CPS should change its position on routine neonatal circumcision from that stated in 1982. The review led us to conclude the following. There is evidence that circumcision results in an approximately 12-fold reduction in the incidence of UTI during infancy. The overall incidence of UTI in male infants appears to be 1% to 2%. The incidence rate of the complications of circumcision reported in published articles varies, but it is generally in the order of 0.2% to 2%. Most complications are minor, but occasionally serious complications occur. There is a need for good epidemiological data on the incidence of the surgical complications of circumcision, of the later complications of circumcision and of problems associated with lack of circumcision. Evaluation of alternative methods of preventing UTI in infancy is required. More information on the effect of simple hygienic interventions is needed. Information is required on the incidence of circumcision that is truly needed in later childhood. There is evidence that circumcision results in a reduction in the incidence of penile cancer and of HIV transmission. However, there is inadequate information to recommend circumcision as a public health measure to prevent these diseases. When circumcision is performed, appropriate attention needs to be paid to pain relief. The overall evidence of the benefits and harms of circumcision is so evenly balanced that it does not support recommending circumcision as a routine procedure for newborns. There is therefore no indication that the position taken by the CPS in 1982 should be changed. When parents are making a decision about circumcision, they should be advised of the present state of medical knowledge about its benefits and harms. Their decision may ultimately be based on personal, religious or cultural factors.
  7. Medical Ethics Committee (June 2006). The law and ethics of male circumcision - guidance for doctors. British Medical Association. Retrieved on 2006-07-01. “Circumcision for medical purposes
    Unnecessarily invasive procedures should not be used where alternative, less invasive techniques, are equally efficient and available. It is important that doctors keep up to date and ensure that any decisions to undertake an invasive procedure are based on the best available evidence. Therefore, to circumcise for therapeutic reasons where medical research has shown other techniques to be at least as effective and less invasive would be unethical and inappropriate. Male circumcision in cases where there is a clear clinical need is not normally controversial. Nevertheless, normal anatomical and physiological characteristics of the infant foreskin have in the past been misinterpreted as being abnormal. The British Association of Paediatric Surgeons advises that there is rarely a clinical indication for circumcision. Doctors should be aware of this and reassure parents accordingly.

    Non-therapeutic circumcision
    Male circumcision that is performed for any reason other than physical clinical need is termed non-therapeutic (or sometimes “ritual”) circumcision. Some people ask for non-therapeutic circumcision for religious reasons, some to incorporate a child into a community, and some want their sons to be like their fathers. Circumcision is a defining feature of some faiths.

    There is a spectrum of views within the BMA’s membership about whether non-therapeutic male circumcision is a beneficial, neutral or harmful procedure or whether it is superfluous, and whether it should ever be done on a child who is not capable of deciding for himself. The medical harms or benefits have not been unequivocally proven except to the extent that there are clear risks of harm if the procedure is done inexpertly. The Association has no policy on these issues. Indeed, it would be difficult to formulate a policy in the absence of unambiguously clear and consistent medical data on the implications of the intervention. As a general rule, however, the BMA believes that parents should be entitled to make choices about how best to promote their children’s interests, and it is for society to decide what limits should be imposed on parental choices.”
  8. Policy Statement On Circumcision (PDF). Royal Australasian College of Physicians (September 2004). Retrieved on 2007-02-28. “The Paediatrics and Child Health Division, The Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) has prepared this statement on routine circumcision of infants and boys to assist parents who are considering having this procedure undertaken on their male children and for doctors who are asked to advise on or undertake it. After extensive review of the literature the RACP reaffirms that there is no medical indication for routine neonatal circumcision. Circumcision of males has been undertaken for religious and cultural reasons for many thousands of years. It remains an important ritual in some religious and cultural groups.…In recent years there has been evidence of possible health benefits from routine male circumcision. The most important conditions where some benefit may result from circumcision are urinary tract infections, HIV and later cancer of the penis.…The complication rate of neonatal circumcision is reported to be around 1% to 5% and includes local infection, bleeding and damage to the penis. Serious complications such as bleeding, septicaemia and meningitis may occasionally cause death. The possibility that routine circumcision may contravene human rights has been raised because circumcision is performed on a minor and is without proven medical benefit. Whether these legal concerns are valid will be known only if the matter is determined in a court of law. If the operation is to be performed, the medical attendant should ensure this is done by a competent operator, using appropriate anaesthesia and in a safe child-friendly environment. In all cases where parents request a circumcision for their child the medical attendant is obliged to provide accurate information on the risks and benefits of the procedure. Up-to-date, unbiased written material summarising the evidence should be widely available to parents. Review of the literature in relation to risks and benefits shows there is no evidence of benefit outweighing harm for circumcision as a routine procedure in the neonate.”
  9. Holman, John R.; Evelyn L. Lewis, Robert L. Ringler (August 1995). "Neonatal circumcision techniques - includes patient information sheet". American Family Physician 52 (2): 511–520. ISSN 0002-838X PMID 7625325. Retrieved on 2006-06-29. 
  10. Peleg, David; Ann Steiner (September 15, 1998). "The Gomco Circumcision: Common Problems and Solutions". American Family Physician 58 (4): 891–898. ISSN 0002-838X PMID 9767725. Retrieved on 2006-06-29. 
  11. Pfenninger, John L.; Grant C. Fowler [1994] (July 21, 2003). Procedures for primary care, 2nd, Mosby. ISBN 978-0-323-00506-7 LCCN 2003-56227. 
  12. Reynolds, RD (July 1996). "Use of the Mogen clamp for neonatal circumcision" (Abstract). American Family Physician 54 (1): 177–182. PMID 8677833. Retrieved on 2006-07-18. 
  13. Griffin A, Kroovand R (1990). "Frenular chordee: implications and treatment". Urology 35 (2): 133–4. doi:10.1016/0090-4295(90)80060-Z. PMID 2305537. 
  14. Shechet, Jacob; Barton Tanenbaum (2000). "Circumcision---The Debates Goes On" (PDF). Pediatrics 105 (3): 682–683. doi:10.1542/peds.105.3.681. PMID 10733391. Retrieved on 2007-04-06. 
  15. Christakis, Dmitry A.; Eric Harvey, Danielle M. Zerr, Chris Feudtner, Jeffrey A. Wright, and Frederick A. Connell (January 2000). "A Trade-off Analysis of Routine Newborn Circumcision" (PDF). Pediatrics 105 (1): 246–249. doi:10.1542/peds.105.1.S2.246 (inactive 2008-06-28). PMID 10617731. Retrieved on 2006-07-01. 
  16. 16.0 16.1 Williams, N; L. Kapila (October 1993). "Complications of circumcision [ (full text)]" (Abstract). British Journal of Surgery 80 (10): 1231–1236. doi:10.1002/bjs.1800801005. PMID 8242285. Retrieved on 2006-07-11. 
  17. Ahmed A,, A; Mbibi NH, Dawam D, Kalayi GD (March 1999). "Complications of traditional male circumcision". Annals of Tropical Paediatrics 19 (1): 113–117. doi:10.1080/02724939992743. PMID 10605531 ISSN 0272-4936. Retrieved on 2006-07-01. 
  18. Gee, W.F.; J.S. Ansell (December 1976). "Neonatal circumcision: a ten-year overview: with comparison of the Gomco clamp and the Plastibell device" (Abstract). Pediatrics 58 (6): 824–827. PMID 995507. Retrieved on 2006-07-11. 
  19. Harkavy, K.L. (April 1987). "The circumcision debate" (Pubmed Entry). Pediatrics 79 (4): 649–650. PMID 3822689. Retrieved on 2006-07-11. 
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 20.3 20.4 20.5 American Academy of Pediatrics Task Force on Circumcision (March 1, 1999). "Circumcision Policy Statement" (PDF). Pediatrics 103 (3): 686–693. doi:10.1542/peds.103.3.686. PMID 10049981. ISSN 0031-4005 PMID 10049981. Retrieved on 2006-07-01. 
  21. 21.0 21.1 Circumcision: Position Paper on Neonatal Circumcision. American Academy of Family Physicians (2007). Retrieved on 2007-01-30.
  22. 22.0 22.1 22.2 Fetus and Newborn Committee (March 1996). "Neonatal circumcision revisited". Canadian Medical Association Journal 154 (6): 769–780. Retrieved on 2006-07-02. 
  23. Complications Of Circumcision. Paediatric Policy - Circumcision. The Royal Australasian College of Physicians (October 2004). Retrieved on 2006-07-11.
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  98. Although the Academy's 1975 statement asserted that "A program of education leading to continuing good personal hygiene would offer all the advantages of circumcision without the attendant surgical risk," the 1999 statement cites a study which found that "appropriate hygiene decreased significantly the incidence of phimosis, adhesions, and inflammation, but did not eliminate all problems."
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  104. Herzog, LW; SR Alvarez (March 1986). "The frequency of foreskin problems in uncircumcised children". Am J Dis Child 140 (3): 254–6. PMID 3946358. 
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  108. Edwards, Sarah (June 1996). "Balanitis and balanoposthitis: a review". Genitourinary Medicine 72 (3): 155–159. PMID 8707315. Retrieved on 2006-09-04. 
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  110. Vincent, Michelle Valerie; Ewan MacKinnon (April 2005). "The response of clinical balanitis xerotica obliterans to the application of topical steroid-based creams" (Abstract). Journal of Pediatric Surgery 40 (4): 709–712. doi:10.1016/j.jpedsurg.2004.12.001. PMID 15852285. Retrieved on 2006-09-21. 
  111. Wright, J.E. (May 1994). "The treatment of childhood phimosis with topical steroid". The Australian and New Zealand journal of surgery 64 (5): 327–328. doi:10.1111/j.1445-2197.1994.tb02220.x. PMID 8179528. Retrieved on 2006-09-21. 
  112. Webster, T.M.; M.P. Leonard (April 2002). "Topical steroid therapy for phimosis" (Abstract). The Canadian journal of urology 9 (2): 1492–1495. PMID 12010594. Retrieved on 2006-09-21. 
  113. Scheinfeld, Noah S.; George C. Keough, Daniel Lehman (January 11, 2006). Diseases Of The Dermis. EMedicine. Retrieved on 2006-09-21.
  114. Mattioli, G.; P. Repetto, C. Carlini, C. Granata, C. Gambini, and V. Jasonni (May 2002). "Lichen sclerosus et atrophicus in children with phimosis and hypospadias" (Abstract). Pediatric Surgery International 18 (4): 273–275. doi:10.1007/s003830100699. PMID 12021978. Retrieved on 2006-09-21. 
  115. Van Howe, R.S. (2004). "A Cost-Utility Analysis of Neonatal Circumcision". Medical Decision Making 24 (6): 584–601. doi:10.1177/0272989X04271039. PMID 15534340.  Van Howe is a fierce opponent of circumcision. In 1999 a detractor accused him of bias, distortions and misrepresentation of the literature [2].
  116. Schoen, E.J.; C.J. Colby CJ and T.T. To (March 2006). "Cost analysis of neonatal circumcision in a large health maintenance organization". Journal of Urology 175 (3, Part 1): 1111–1115. doi:10.1016/S0022-5347(05)00399-X. PMID 16469634. E.J. Schoen, the principal author of the above study, is an 'outspoken proponent' of circumcision.[citation needed]

External links

Further reading

  • Apt A. Circumcision and prostatic cancer. Acta Med Scand 1965; 178: 493-504.
  • Bailis, S. & Halperin, D.. Male circumcision: time to re-examine the evidence. studentBMJ May 2006;14:179-180.
  • Reddy DG, Baruah IK. Carcinogenic Action of Human Smegma. Arch Pathol 1963; 75(4): 414-420.