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Circumcision and Prostate Cancer

Mar 22, 2012

Researchers from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center have found an association between circumcision and prostate cancer risk.

In their study, men who had been circumcised before their first sexual intercourse were 15% less likely to develop prostate cancer than uncircumcised men.

The results were published in the March 12, 2012 online edition of Cancer, a journal of the American Cancer Society.

Researchers studied the health information of 3,399 men. Roughly half had prostate cancer; the other half did not. The men reported whether they had been circumcised, age at circumcision, and their age when they first had sexual intercourse.

The findings applied to less- and more-aggressive cancers, too. Risk for developing less aggressive cancer dropped 12% for the circumcised men. Risk for more-aggressive cancer fell 18% for the same group.

Why might circumcision protect men from prostate cancer?

The procedure can help protect against sexually-transmitted infections (STIs). Inflammation from STIs may form a “hospitable environment for cancer cells” according to the Hutchinson Center.

Circumcision involves removing the foreskin that covers the tip of the penis. In uncircumcised men, the moist space under the foreskin gives STIs a place to grow. Without the foreskin, STIs have less of a chance to develop.

Fewer STIs may lead to less inflammation. Less inflammation may lead to a reduced risk for prostate cancer.

The study authors stress that their study is observational. In other words, it does not prove that there is a cause and effect relationship between circumcision and prostate cancer. More research is needed.

In a press release, lead author Dr. Jonathan Wright said, “These data are in line with an infectious/inflammatory pathway which may be involved in the risk of prostate cancer in some men. Although observational only, these data suggest a biologically plausible mechanism through which circumcision may decrease the risk of prostate cancer. Future research of this relationship is warranted."

According to the American Cancer Society, an estimated 241,740 new cases of prostate cancer will be diagnosed in 2012 in the United States. Prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in American men, except for skin cancer.