Pediatrics Group Says Circumcision Benefits Outweigh Risks, but Parents Must Decide

The American Academy of Pediatrics revises its 1999 policy based on new evidence in published studies.

The American Academy of Pediatrics examined more than 1,000 studies before concluding the benefits of circumcision were greater than the risks. (Photo: Jade Brookbank/Getty Images)

Aug 27, 2012
Jeannine Stein, a California native, wrote about health for the Los Angeles Times. In her pursuit of a healthy lifestyle she has taken countless fitness classes, hiked in Nepal and got in a boxing ring.

The American Academy of Pediatrics wants mothers and fathers to know that the health benefits of infant male circumcision outweigh the risks of having the procedure. But the ultimate decision on the matter, the group says, should be up to the parents.

The AAP’s revised policy statement on circumcision was released today, updating its previous 1999 recommendations. Since then, the AAP says, more evidence has been published showing a stronger link between early circumcision and a number of advantages, health-wise, to boys, men, and their female partners.

A task force looked through more than 1,000 studies published from 1995 to 2010. The health benefits associated with circumcision included a lower risk of developing a urinary tract infection in the first year of life, plus lower odds of developing HIV, human papilloma virus, penile cancer and genital herpes. For female sexual partners there could be less of a risk of cervical cancer.

MORE: Circumcision: Cruel Cut or Essential Slice of Life?

But those benefits weren’t enough to warrant an across-the-board recommendation that parents have it done, although the AAP said insurance coverage of the procedure is warranted.

“Ultimately, this is a decision that parents will have to make,” Dr. Susan Blank said in a news release. Blank, task force chairman, added, “Parents are entitled to medically accurate and non-biased information about circumcision, and they should weigh this medical information in the context of their own religious, ethical and cultural beliefs.”

Circumcision rates in the U.S. have been falling since the 1980s, when they were at about 79 percent. Now rates are about 55 percent. Elsewhere, such as Europe, they’re much lower, around 10 percent on average.

The policy statement comes just days after the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine released a study forecasting the financial fallout if circumcision rates continue to drop. An extra $4.4 billion could be added to the country’s healthcare costs over the next decade should infection rates rise as circumcision rates fall.

Parents should not only discuss the pros and cons of circumcision with their doctor, they should also be on the same page about the procedure before any babies are born, Blank says.

“It’s a good idea to have this conversation during pregnancy, and to learn whether your insurance will cover the procedure, so you have time to make the decision,” she said.

Banks’s advice is wise, considering circumcision has become a polarizing issue, with some people saying the procedure is akin to mutilating children and others believing it’s more hygienic.

The policy has been endorsed by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Dr. Sabrina Craigo of ACOG said in a statement, “This information will be helpful for obstetricians who are often the medical providers who counsel parents about circumcision.”

Do you think the health benefits of circumcision outweight the risks? Let us know in the comments.

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