Does Newborn Circumcision Prevent Cancer?
Here's what leading U.S. medical organizations have to say
If you’re pregnant and expecting a boy, congratulations! You’re likely doing all the research you can about having a healthy baby, including asking “Should I circumcise my son?”
There is a lot of information out there about possible circumcision benefits, and some of it is conflicting. One thing that new parents often hear is that circumcision may reduce the risk of cancer. But is that true? And how common is penile cancer?
This article focuses on statistics from the United States and addresses:
What does getting a baby circumcised mean?
During circumcision, the foreskin is surgically removed from the head of the penis. The Mayo Clinic describes the procedures as:
"For newborn circumcision, your son will lie on his back with his arms and legs restrained. After the penis and surrounding area are cleansed, an anesthetic will be injected into the base of the penis or applied to the penis as a cream. A special clamp or plastic ring will be attached to the penis, and the foreskin will be removed."
This video (with no audio, only voiceover) shows a newborn circumcision. This is an age-restricted video that some viewers may find disturbing.
What is the foreskin’s purpose?
The foreskin is not "just a piece of skin." According to Doctors Opposing Circumcision:
"The foreskin is a normal, natural, healthy, valuable part of your son’s body. The foreskin protects your son’s penis and urinary opening throughout life. When he’s older, his foreskin will allow him to experience sexual sensation and function the way nature intended. He’s perfect just the way he is."
How common is newborn circumcision in the U.S.?
In 2010, the most recent year for which the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has released statistics, 58% of infant males were circumcised. There are significant regional differences throughout the country. Infant circumcision rates are lowest in the western part of the country, at 40.2% and highest in the Midwest, at 71%.
The American Academy of Pediatrics’ official stance on circumcision is:
“Although health benefits are not great enough to recommend routine circumcision for all male newborns, the benefits of circumcision are sufficient to justify access to this procedure for families choosing it and to warrant third-party payment for circumcision of male newborns.”
How common is penile cancer in the U.S.?
Penile cancer is very rare. According to the American Cancer Society:
- There are 2,210 new cases diagnosed each year in the U.S.
- Fewer than one man in 100,000 will be diagnosed in a year.
When talking about how penile cancer develops, the American Cancer Society states that:
“About 95% of penile cancers start in flat skin cells called squamous cells. Squamous cell carcinoma (also known as squamous cell cancer) can start anywhere on the penis. Most of these cancers start on the foreskin (in men who have not been circumcised) or on the glans.”
Does infant circumcision prevent penile cancer?
Logic tells us that cancer cannot develop on a missing body part. But, as noted above, the foreskin is not the only place where penile cancer can start. The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) states that, “[I]t is important to note that circumcision reduces but does not eliminate the risk of penile cancer.”
ASCO lists several factors that may decrease a man’s risk of penile cancer:
- Not smoking
- Receiving the HPV vaccine
- Being HIV-free
- Avoiding certain types of psoriasis treatment
- Reducing chronic penile inflammation by having adequate hygiene
Throughout his lifetime, your son will have opportunities to reduce his risk of cancer, including penile cancer.
Circumcision Risks and Complications
Circumcision, like any medical procedure, has risks. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), injury to the penis occurs in 4/10,000 circumcisions. A botched circumcision is rare, but penile cancer is even rarer.
To put it another way, your son has a greater chance of being injured during his circumcision than of ever developing penile cancer.
Honor Your Son’s Bodily Autonomy
A circumcision cannot be undone. Parents can honor their son’s autonomy by leaving him intact.
Many new parents are overwhelmed or uncertain about how to care for an intact son. It’s easier than you think. Your Whole Baby has some helpful tips:
- Gently wipe your baby’s penis from base to tip.
- Don’t retract your son’s foreskin or let anyone (including doctors!) try to retract. Some boys won’t be able to retract until they are in their teens.
- A boy should be the first person to retract his own foreskin.
Your son can always choose to be circumcised later in life if he so chooses. Let him make that choice about his own body.
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There are many other things that parents may consider when making the circumcision decision. We chose to leave both of our sons intact. To read more about our decision, check out: