Muslims and Jews do not circumcise their children for medical health reasons, although neither religion believes that circumcision is harmful to a man's health. However, there are vociferous groups in Europe and the U.S. that attack this religious ritual under the guise of medical and moral concern, claiming that circumcision is painful (like a vaccination) and an unnecessary procedure (like plastic surgery). Yet more and more evidence is accumulating that circumcision is good for men physically as well as spiritually. According to a new U.S. study, circumcised men may have a lower risk of developing prostate cancer than those who still have their foreskin.
The World Health Organization already recommends the procedure based on research showing it lowers heterosexual men's risk of contracting HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. In 2011 scientists also reported that wives and girlfriends of circumcised men had lower rates of infection with human papillomavirus or HPV, which in rare cases may lead to cervical and other cancers. And last week, researchers reported that African men who were circumcised were less likely to be infected with a particular herpes virus. The new study, published in the journal Cancer, jibes with those findings.
Although most U.S. men are circumcised, the procedure has become less popular over the past decade, and various groups have spoken out against it. In 2011-SEP, the Dutch Medical Association discouraged the practice, calling it a "painful and harmful ritual." The Dutch statement was rejected by both Jews and Muslims, who also joined together in opposing a bill in the Dutch parliament outlawing ritual slaughter of animals.
The new study compared two groups of more than 1,600 men who had answered questions about their medical history, sex life and whether or not they were circumcised. Half had prostate cancer, the others didn't. In the group with cancer, 69 percent of the men have been circumcised, compared to 72 percent of those without cancer - suggesting a small protective effect.
But after accounting for a host of other factors, such as age, race and whether or not the men had been screened for prostate cancer, those who were circumcised had a 15 percent lower risk of the disease. "Circumcision before first sexual intercourse is associated with a reduction in the relative risk of prostate cancer in the study population," the study stated.
The foreskin is known to be prone to tiny tears during sex, which may help bacteria and viruses enter the bloodstream. so some viruses can trigger cancer when they are incorporated into human DNA. Another possibility is that sexually transmitted microorganisms could lead to cancer by causing chronic inflammation. One in six U.S. men will get prostate cancer during his lifetime, although only a minority of them will die from the disease.