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Study: Circumcision Reduces Cancer Risk

Procedure helps to lessen men's chances of contracting sexual diseases, researchers say, and may lower the rate of cervical cancer.

April 15, 2002|DELTHIA RICKS | NEWSDAY

Women whose sex partners are circumcised have lower rates of cervical cancer, and their male partners have lower rates of sexually transmitted disorders, researchers found in an international investigation released Thursday.

For years, doctors have known that the human papillomavirus (HPV) is the cause of 99% of all cases of cervical cancer and that men who have multiple sex partners are most likely to transmit it.

Seven studies in five countries and on three continents found that circumcision is the key to limiting the spread of the cancer. Men who underwent surgical removal of the foreskin as infants, researchers said, were less likely to harbor and transmit HPV, which can thrive in the foreskin's crevices. Cervical cancer, affecting about 13,000 women in the U.S. this year, is a major cause of death for women worldwide. In developing countries, the malignancy is a leading cause of death, outnumbering breast and uterine cancers. Globally, more than 460,000 cases of the cancer will be diagnosed this year.

Dr. Xavier Castellsague of Llobregat Hospital in Barcelona, Spain, found in his review of the major studies on HPV transmission and cancer that HPV could be detected in 20% of all uncircumcised men studied. That compared with slightly more than 5% of circumcised men. Women whose sex partners were circumcised had a 58% lower risk of cervical cancer than did women whose partners were uncircumcised.

Dr. Dimitrios Trichopoulos, an epidemiologist at Harvard University's School of Public Health, said doctors have long suspected that male circumcision could help reduce the risk of cervical cancer, but there was no solid scientific proof until now. "I would recommend circumcision of all male babies," Trichopoulos said, "but I don't think that will ever happen." Instead, he recommended condom use and proper hygiene.

HPV causes cervical cancer by insinuating into the genes of healthy cells, transmuting them into malignant ones. Regular Pap smears can detect cellular changes within the cervix, doctors say. The cancer is curable when detected early. Medical researchers are testing an HPV vaccine.

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