According to an article published by Reuters last month, there is now evidence that circumcision, which is the process of surgically removing the foreskin covering the head of a man's penis (usually at birth), can protect men from HIV and human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is the sexually transmitted virus that can cause cervical cancer in women, as well as genital warts. It is the most common of all sexually transmitted infections in the world.
Three studies were published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases presenting the evidence.
In the first report, Dr. Bertran Auvert of the University of Versailles in France and some colleagues in South Africa tested over 1200 men visiting a South African clinic. His team found that under 15% of the circumcised men as compared to 22% of uncircumcised men were infected with HPV.
"This finding explains why women with circumcised partners are at a lower risk of cervical cancer than other women," they wrote in their report.
The second study looking at U.S. men had less clear-cut results, but according to Carrie Nielson of Oregon Health & Science University and her colleagues, there was some indication that circumcision may protect men. The circumcised men were about half as likely to have HPV as the uncircumcised men, after adjustment was made for other difference between the groups.
The final study dealt with HIV. Lee Warner of the CDC and his colleagues tested Black men in Baltimore and discovered that only 10% of those at high risk of becoming infected that were circumcised had HIV, as compared to 22% of those were not circumcised.
"Circumcision was associated with substantially reduced HIV risk in patients with known HIV exposure, suggesting that results of other studies demonstrating reduced HIV risk for circumcision among heterosexual men likely can be generalized to the U.S. context," they wrote.
Previously, studies supporting circumcision to reduce HIV transmission had all been done in Africa. Most of the U.S. studies had been unclear.
In commentary, Dr. Ronald Gray of Johns Hopkins University and a team of colleagues, who were encouraged by the findings, said the following:
"In the United States, circumcision is less common among African American and Hispanic men, who are also the subgroups most at risk of HIV....Thus, circumcision may afford an additional means of protection from HIV in these at-risk minorities."
But they highlighted the fact that the American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend routine circumcision for newborns.
"As a consequence of this AAP decision, Medicaid does not cover circumcision costs, and this is particularly disadvantageous for poorer African American and Hispanic boys who, as adults, may face high HIV exposure risk," Gray and his colleagues wrote.
They also noted the fact that "circumcision rates have been declining in the U.S., possibly because of lack of Medicaid coverage."
For further information on HPV, visit http://www.cdc.gov/STD/HPV/STDFact-HPV.htm