Possible Medical Justifications for Circumcision


History of Circumcision
Medical Justifications
Procedures and Complications


Over the last 200 years, medical authorities have, time and time again, attempted to justify circumcision as a preventative procedure for diseases such as Penile Cancer, Cervical Cancer, Venereal Diseases, and, more recently, AIDS.  This is a great debate within the medical community, for some argue that circumcision is a preventative procedure for these diseases, while others disagree.  The question posed in this section is whether or not it is necessary to be circumcised for  possible medical benefits?  What role do the medical authorities play in the "American circumcision"?



Penile Cancer

In the United States, cancer is a main concern of the medical community; therefore, numerous studies have been conducted in search of what may cause cancer and how it can be prevented.  Although penile cancer only accounts for around one percent of all cancers in the male population, there still have been many studies conducted on this subject.  There seems to be a correlation between infant males who are circumcised at a young age and the lack of penile cancer later on in life, and because of this correlation, the medical community argues that male infants should be circumcised. 


J. Dellinger Barney at Massachusetts General Hospital conducted an early study of penile cancer in 1907.  During Barney’s thirty-three years of practice, he observed over 100 incidents of penile cancer, and concluded that annually, the General Hospital had on average 2.8 cases. [i]  Circumcision was not linked with penile cancer until the 1920s and 1930s, when medical authorities discovered that this type of cancer was rare among Muslims and Jews.  Being that circumcision is a wide spread practice within theses communities, medical authorities associated circumcision with the lack of penile cancer. [ii]  In 1932, Abraham L. Wolbarst, M.D. conducted a study based on a nationwide questionnaire, personal correspondence, and medical literature causing him to make the following observations: 


Penile cancer does not occur in Muslims who practice circumcision in infancy, but in rare cases, it does occur in Muslims who have been circumcised between the ages of four and nine.

Penile cancer does not occur in Jews who are circumcised during infancy, but it does occur in uncircumcised Jews. 

Penile cancer occurs almost exclusively in uncircumcised males and occasionally occurs in males who were circumcised during adulthood.

◈Racial immunity against Muslims and Jews does not exist.  The one common factor that exists between the two communities is that fact they both practice circumcision.

◈Penile cancer accounts for at least 2 – 3% of cancer in all men. [iii]


Although Wolbarst’s observations are considered only partially true today, for it is believed that Jews may have genetic immunity to certain diseases including penile cancer, his observations are still cited as means for the prevention of penile cancer.  


Penile cancer can originate in many forms, with the most common form of penile cancer “originating in the inner part of the prepuce of the penis or the inner part of the glands [and then] spreading to the body of the penis.” [iv]  Penile cancer is mostly associated with phimosis, a condition in which the glands of the penis cannot be easily retracted for sufficient cleaning; in fact, cancer of the penis is sited numerous times as occurring due to extremely poor hygiene.  If not cleaned sufficiently, the penis may begin to show the earliest stages of penile cancer, which appear as itching, redness, ulceration, or foul smelling discharge.  Penile cancer, which is easily curable with early treatment, is usually not diagnosed until later stages in the process, and therefore, is harder to cure.  Along with the indicator of the non-retractable foreskin, people who have penile cancer also are very likely to have a venereal disease.  In fact, in one study, 32% of the participants had at least one venereal disease. [v]


Cancer of the penis is associated with extremely poor hygiene, and several doctors conclude that most patients who acquire this form of cancer are from the lower socio-economic levels.  People who are in poverty are less likely to seek medical treatment, are less likely to have health insurance, and are less likely to be informed pertaining to this form of cancer. [vi]

Although, it may be true that most people who acquire penile cancer are uncircumcised, this conclusion does not justify circumcising all infant males.  If parents were properly informed on the methods of cleaning the uncircumcised penis correctly, the likelihood of the uncircumcised male attaining penile cancer would diminish drastically.  Besides, penile cancer only affects a small percentage of all males...does this percentage justify performing routine circumcision on the American male population? 


For more information on Penile Cancer visit these links: http://www.cirp.org/library/disease/cancer/



Cervical Cancer


In 1954, Ernest L. Wynder and Associates conducted a study causing them to observe:


“The uterine cervix is the second most frequent site of cancer in American women, accounting for approximately 10% of all newly diagnosed cases and for about the same percentage of total cancer deaths…Cancer of the cervix is infrequent among Jewish and Moslem women.” [vii]


As with penile cancer, the association of Jewish and Muslim women with their circumcised partners and low rates of cervical cancer constitute that uncircumcised males are more likely to give their partners cervical cancer.   This study conducted by Wynder and associates is still cited today by many medical authorities as support for circumcision, despite the fact that the study contains a major flaw, for it fails to state that “the presence or absence of the foreskin of a woman’s sexual partner has been one of many factors suggested as a variable in cancer of the cervix.” [viii]  It is noted by Rosemary Romberg in her book Circumcision:  A Painful Dilemma that rates of cervical cancer are about the same in Europe, where most men are intact, as they are in the United States.  Studies have been conducted showing that other factors such as marriage before the age of 20 - with 53% of cervical cancer patients having engaged in intercourse before the age of 17 - poor personal hygiene, race - for black women are more likely than their white counterparts to have cervical cancer - poverty, marriage - married women are more likely to have cervical cancer than those who are not married - number of sexual partners, and general health, are all contributors to the likelihood of acquiring cervical cancer.  Evidence that circumcision is a preventative procedure for cervical cancer is not apparent, for most of the studies that were conducted show that “if Jewish and Muslim women are omitted from the group under investigation, circumcision is no longer a significant factor” in relating to the likelihood of cervical cancer. [ix]

For more information on Cervical Cancer click these links: http://www.cirp.org/library/disease/cancer/



In response to circumcision as a means of preventing cancer, both penile and cervical, Thomas J. Ritter, M.D. stated: "If one wishes to practice an amputative type of preventative medicine, one could find many more rewarding structures to cut off rather than the foreskin. The ear. Cancer of the skin of the top of the ear is common. We could hear without the protruding appendage. The female breast...Removing the minute breasts of all female infants in immediate postnatal period would ultimately save tens of thousands of lives each year...[A] new flat chest contour could...be accepted as the norm, just as the multitude of surgically pruned penises are now accepted as the norm." Romberg, pg. 247



Venereal Disease


Like penile and cervical cancer, some medical officials believe that the uncircumcised male is more likely to attain venereal diseases.  Although it is apparent that circumcised men are not immune from attaining venereal diseases, it is still not apparent whether the uncircumcised male contributes to the likelihood of attaining a venereal disease.  While some observations reveal that there is no difference in the likelihood of attaining a venereal disease between intact and circumcised men, other observations conclude that there is a difference. [x] “Socioeconomic factors, lifestyle, values, sexual practices, personal cleanliness, awareness of disease symptoms, and access to and willingness to seek medical treatment have a seemingly greater effect on whether or not one will contract a venereal disease than does the presence or absence of one’s foreskin.” [xi]  Although the foreskin may be a perfect area for fostering venereal diseases, there are many other places as well, such as the mouth, the anus, the feet, the hands, and the eyes, which could also foster these diseases.  Regular washing of the foreskin could prevent venereal diseases, if they are in fact, harbored by it.  Since the studies conducted on venereal diseases are not conclusive to the fact that the foreskin attributes to the greater likelihood of attaining a venereal disease, it seems unnecessary to circumcise all infant males as a means of possible prevention.  

For more information visit....





There is quite a bit of new evidence stating that circumcision lowers the risk of attaining HIV, which seems to be developing day by day.  Here are some links:


http://www.geocities.com/HotSprings/2754/ This is a site showing HOW circumcision reduces the likelihood of HIV


The Medical Authorities

Although there is much debate on whether circumcision is a preventative procedure with seemingly inconclusive evidence that displays the disadvantages of being left intact, it is interesting to note the "official" medical authorities stance of the procedural circumcision. 


The American Academy of Pediatrics:

1971:  "there are no valid medical indications for circumcision in the neonatal period."

1975:  "There is no absolute medical indication for routine circumcision of the newborn.

1999:  circumcision may have some medical benefits (penile cancer and STDs), but the " the procedure is not essential to the child's current well-being." For the exact transcript of the policy visit: http://aappolicy.aappublications.org/cgi/content/full/pediatrics;103/3/686


The American Medical Associations stance on circumcision follows that of the American Academy of Pediatrics: 



Granted that is a large debate on the benefits of circumcision within the medical community and the non-committal stance of both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical Association, something other than the medical community's confused stance on circumcision must be causing parents to choose such a procedure. 



[i] Barney, J. Dellinger, M.D. “Epithelioma of the Penis:  An Analysis of One Hundred Cases.” Annals of Surgery. Vol. 46:  1907. 890.

[ii] Romberg, Rosemary. Circumcision:  A Painful Dilemma. Bergin & Garvey Publishers, Inc.: Massachusetts. 1985. 235.

[iii] Romberg, Rosemary. Circumcision:  A Painful Dilemma. Bergin & Garvey Publishers, Inc.:  Massachusetts. 1985. 236.

[iv] Romberg. 236.

[v] Romberg. 237.

[vi] Romberg. 240.

[vii] Romberg. 259.

[viii] Romberg. 259.

[ix] Romberg. 269.

[x] Romberg. 250.

[xi] Romberg. 251.


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This site was last updated 12/21/04