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Pediatrics group: Circumcision can lessen some health risks

The American Academy Pediatrics is highlighting new research thoutlines several potential health benefits circumcising male babies.   |

The American Academy of Pediatrics is highlighting new research that outlines several potential health benefits to circumcising male babies. | file photo

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Benefits and Risks of

Potential benefits:

Prevention of urinary tract infections

Prevention of acquisition of HIV

Prevention of some sexually transmitted infections

Prevention of penile cancer

Acute complications arise in approximately 0.2 percent of procedures. Potential risks include:



Cosmetic problems if done incorrectly

Sources: American Academy of Pediatrics and Provena Saint Joseph Medical Center pediatrician Dr. Heather Decker

Updated: November 4, 2012 6:08AM

It’s been known for a while that infant circumcision lowers the rate of urinary tract infections in babies their first year of life. It’s also been established that the procedure decreases the transmission of herpes simplex Type 2 (genital herpes) and human papillomavirus (HPV), which is a cancer-causer. Penile cancer rates are lower in circumcised men, as well.

But the latest on the research front has prompted the American Academy of Pediatrics to shift its neutral stance on the procedure to highlighting the positive health effects. The new research indicates that circumcision may help protect men against acquiring the HIV virus from heterosexual sex with women. The news was announced in a recent issue of the medical journal Pediatrics.

“Evaluation of current evidence indicates that the health benefits of newborn male circumcision outweigh the risks,” the article stated. “Furthermore, the benefits of newborn male circumcision justify access to this procedure for families who choose it.”

The academy did not go out on a limb to formally recommend the procedure, leaving that decision to parents. A Joliet pediatrician said the news is good.

“It’s always been mostly a cultural or religious consideration,” Dr. Heather Decker of Provena Saint Joseph Medical Center said of circumcision, “but now it’s becoming more of a health issue.”

Decker said the latest research showing a decrease in heterosexual transmission of HIV in circumcised men is a sound study. If the foreskin is left on, she said, it can increase the chance of urinary tract infections and some sexually transmitted diseases.

“The foreskin can trap some wetness,” she said. “It can be a breeding ground.”

Circumcision is the surgical removal of some or all of the foreskin on the tip of the penis. It is usually performed within a few days of birth by a neonatologist, an obstetrician or a pediatrician while the baby is still in the hospital.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, at birth, most boys have skin that completely covers or almost covers the end of the penis. Circumcision removes some of this foreskin so that the tip of the penis and the opening of the urethra are exposed to air.

“The rate (of circumcision) was much higher 10 years ago,” Decker said. “It was a no-brainer. ... Today, as parents surf the Internet, they are given more information, some of it true and some of it false. It is removing a part of the body that’s not causing any harm, and there are complications.”

The rates of circumcision are declining in the United States and in Europe. Some feel it is akin to genital mutilation. Other parents decide it’s more natural not to get their sons circumcised.

Decker said there are complications from the procedure, including bleeding, pain, infection and cosmetic disfigurement if done incorrectly. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, however, complications are rare and potential benefits are good.

Decker said she considers it her job to inform new parents of the pros and cons of the procedure but not to give recommendations.

“It is so personal,” she said of the decision, “and it depends on the area and the specific population ... A lot of it depends on whether the father was circumcised.”

Decker estimated about 75 percent of her patients choose to circumcise their baby boys. She does advise, however, that if the parents choose the procedure, they have it done soon after birth. The rates of complications increase with age.

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