Circumcision may cut risk of prostate cancer

BOYS who are circumcised in childhood are about 15 per cent less likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer in later life – a finding some health experts say strengthens the arguments to make the procedure more widely available.

After drastic declines in popularity in Australia over the past 40 years, the health benefits of circumcision have recently been reviewed by various expert bodies following evidence circumcised men enjoy some protection from sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.

But a new study by US experts, published online yesterday by the journal Cancer, suggests the benefits may go further by extending to the single most commonly diagnosed cancer in Australia, which is also the third-biggest cancer killer of men.

Researchers from the University of Washington in Seattle analysed details of nearly 3400 men, of whom 1754 had prostate cancer and 1645 did not.

They found that the men who had been circumcised before they first had sexual intercourse were 15 per cent less likely to develop prostate cancer than the other men, with the reduction increasing slightly to 18 per cent in the case of more aggressive cancers. Although the study’s design means it cannot prove circumcision was the cause of the lower cancer rate, the authors said the large number of participants gave the results greater reliability than earlier studies.

 

The authors also said the fact the benefit was restricted to men who had been circumcised before their first intercourse — men circumcised later had a slightly elevated cancer risk — suggested a plausible link between prostate cancer and sexually transmitted infections.

A number of infections, such as the human papillomavirus, have been shown to cause cancer of various types.

The authors said sexually transmitted infections caused chronic inflammation that might increase prostate cancer risk, while disease-causing germs were harboured in the moist space under the foreskin.

Circumcision opponents say it is a disfiguring procedure which infants are incapable of consent to, but a leading advocate for the wider use of circumcision in Australia, Alex Wodak from the drug and alcohol service at Sydney’s St Vincent’s Hospital, said a 15 per cent reduction was significant given the large numbers of prostate cancer diagnoses in Australia.

Nearly 20,000 men were diagnosed with the disease in Australia in 2007

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