Circumcision tied to lower prostate cancer risk

Reuters, Monday 12 Mar 2012

Circumcised men may have a slightly lower risk of developing prostate cancer than those who still have their foreskin, according to a new study

The World Health Organisation already recommends the controversial procedure based on research showing it lowers heterosexual men's risk of contracting HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

Last year, scientists also reported that wives and girlfriends of circumcised men had lower rates of infection with human papillomavirus or HPV, which in rare cases may lead to cervical and other cancers. And last week, researchers reported that African men who were circumcised were less likely to be infected with a particular herpes virus.

The new work jibes with those findings, but it falls short of actually proving that removing a boy's foreskin will cut his future cancer risk, said Dr. Jonathan L. Wright, who led the research.

The results were published  in the journal Cancer and add to the longstanding debate over whether boys should keep their foreskin

For their study, Wright and his colleagues compared two groups of more than 1,600 men who had answered questions about their medical history, sex life and whether or not they were circumcised.

Half of the men had prostate cancer, while the other half didn't.

In the cancer-ridden group, 69 per cent of the men had been circumcised, while that was the case for 72 per cent of the comparison group, suggesting a small protective effect of the practice.

Even after accounting for a host of other factors – such as age, race and whether or not the men had been screened for prostate cancer – those without a foreskin still had a 15 per cent lower risk of the disease. Only men who'd been circumcised before they became sexually active were at lower risk.

The foreskin is prone to tiny tears during sex, which may help bacteria and viruses enter the bloodstream.

Wright said some viruses can trigger cancer when they get incorporated into human DNA. Another possibility is that sexually transmitted microorganisms could lead to cancer by causing chronic inflammation.

That might help explain the link found by several research groups between prostate cancer and various types of sexually transmitted infection.

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