How circumcision before first sexual encounter might thwart prostate cancer

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Circumcision linked to lower prostate cancer, finds an observational study.

Cancer researchers say men who are circumcised before having sex for the first time might lower their chances of developing prostate cancer. Scientists, from Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, surmised sexually transmitted diseases are a risk for prostate cancer because of inflammation that accompanies infection. The goal of the study was to find out if STD prevention from circumcision also lowers the risk of prostate cancer; something the researchers felt only made sense.

The finding, published early online in the journal Cancer, showed circumcised men were 15% less likely to develop cancer of the prostate if they had been circumcised prior to their first sexual encounter. The results applied to both aggressive and non-aggressive forms of the disease.

Jonathan L. Wright, MD, an affiliate investigator in the Hutchinson Center's Public Health Sciences Division, and his colleagues tested the idea by analyzing information from 3,399 men -1,754 had prostate cancer and 1,645 did not.

The results specifically showed circumcised men might lower their risk of aggressive cancer of the prostate by 18% and less aggressive disease by 12%.

There has been some controversy about whether or not circumcision should be mandatory. Studies show rates of HPV infection, which is a known risk for cancer are lower when the foreskin of the penis is removed; highlighted in a January 2011 study published in the Lancet.


Researchers for the current study suggest foreskin creates a moist, hospitable environment for pathogens. Inflammatory processes can change cell structure, leading to cancer, though other mechanisms might be involved.

According to Deborah Mitchell, who covered the Lancet story at EmaxHealth, "Other studies have already shown that male circumcision reduces the risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases such as herpes simplex virus-2, and genital ulcer disease in men, as well as trichomoniasis, bacterial vaginosis, and genital ulcer disease in female partners."

Researchers presented findings at the annual International AIDS Society Conference in Rome, July, 2011, that circumcision cuts HIV transmission up to 76%.

Wright says more studies are needed to completely understand how inflammation and STD's might be involved in risk of prostate cancer. The current observational finding that circumcision might reduce the chances of cancer of the prostate is also in line with a past study showing statins - cholesterol medications that also reduce inflammation - improve prostate cancer outcomes in men being treated for the disease.

"Circumcision and the risk of prostate cancer"
Jonathan L. Wright MD, MS et al.
March 12, 2012

Image credit: Wikimedia commons



A classic case of data-mining. There was NO significant correlation between being never-circumcised and prostate cancer. So they took the men circumcised after they'd had sex (who were very slightly MORE likely to end up with prostate cancer) and added them to the never-circumcised. Even so, the statistical significance was marginal (95% confidence intervals reaching 1.0). If the link is via STDs, you'd think there would be a significant difference in reported STDs between the men with and without prostate cancer, but there isn't - so the researchers have to resort to asymptomatic and unreported STDs. Even if the benefit was rock-solid, it amounts to 39 infant circumcisions, with all their risks and harm, wasted for every cancer prevented. But "15% reduction" looks more impressive. Is anyone else tired of this steady drizzle of pro-circumcision propaganda? Circumcision is a "cure" in endless and futile search of a disease, an intervention tirelessly seeking an excuse. The real reasons for doing it are not rational. "There has been some controversy about whether or not circumcision should be mandatory." You could say that. Actually, the question is when this brutal and sometimes fatal stone-age magic will be consigned to the dustbin of history.
Your comments are appreciated. In another article, a comment seemed to take aim at my own suggestion that this is a cruel practice.
I am sick of the neverending pro circumcision research that is always done by circumcising cultures. Circumcision is a cure in search of a disease. The theory of HIV prevention is due to the theory that langerhans cells provide an easy entry point for hiv. While everyone is quick to point out that the inner foreskin is rich in these cells, people forget that labias have even more of these cells. As for this stupid prostate cancer theory, I'm awfully skeptical. Why don't we ever examine Europe that despite having less circumcised men, have fewer HPV, HIV, cervical cancer, and prostate cancer? I'd hate to think how high our rates would be if we weren't circumcised here. If research showed we could slow down HIV, cervical cancer, HPV, vaginal cancer, and UTI's in women, would we look at the research or just call it barbaric quackery? As a matter of fact, female adults and infants suffer several more times UTIs and genital cancer, yet we only focus our attention to men. Can we just admit to ourselves that we are trying to justify a cultural and cosmetic tradition?
It's a rather bizarre procedure when you objectively look at things. A cultural practice always seeking to be medically justified. If this tissue was so disadvantageous to our helath, why did we evolve with one? If in the future, we eliminate hiv due to vaccines or safe sex practices (which for some stupid reason we are putting on the back burner in favor of circumcision in Africa) what will be the next excuse? "So he doesn't whistle in the wind?" - Penn Jillette
Frank - In the earlier days of my nursing career I watched babies scream in pain when this was done. They told me babies forget pain - we now know they do not. Now they at least anesthetize. That alone makes me still cringe - and I fought verbally against it with my instructors and the physicians. Poor little babies!!! If you could have seen the pain on those little boys' faces and heard that...I did get in trouble, but I wouldn't change the fact that I spoke up for anything. We are often later proven to be wrong.
Yeah. I didn't even think about the issue until I saw a Penn and Teller episode on the subject. It made me sick to see that. I'm not sure if infants will remember it, I do not have a recollection of it at all. But the procedure just creeps me out so much. What is our obsession with performing a cosmetic procedure on an infant? I feel like we are just trying to justify a cosmetic and cultural procedure. Anyways, from what I've heard, Egyptian physicians always try to justify female mutilation with reduced hiv, std's, uti's, hygine, etc. etc. Whether you believe one is minor and the other one is serious, that's fine, but what can't be argued is that they are performed and have been performed for the exact same reasons! To suppress sexuality? Routine infant male circumcision was introduced in victorian society to curb masturbation and dull sex. Culture, religion, preference.....all are the same reasons. I really think one day we'll look back and say, what were we thinking? I am not against circumcision, just forced elective procedure on someone who can't consent.
Well, even memories can be subconscious and shape who we are I think is what plagued me. Just like we used to do live vivisection on dogs; suggesting they can't feel pain - same with fish - apparently they do feel pain. We were wrong....
The one odd thing I find by your article, Kathleen, is that you seem to be trying to justify circumcision. Circumcision has and always will be a cure in search of a disease.
Frank, it's odd that you attribute what is clearly a report, with attribution to the actual source of that report, as coming from me. There is no opinion. I wonder if it would be beneficial for you to contact the researcher directly at the Hutchinson Center's Public Health Sciences Division to discuss the findings?