Do the Risks Outweigh the Benefits?
The United States is one of the only Western countries in the world that circumcises newborns as a "routine" medical procedure. Circumcision is often described as a safe and painless procedure, while risks and potential long term effects are downplayed in ways that are (in my opinion) not true to the spirit of informed consent. So what are the real risks and benefits to newborn circumcision?
It's actually much more likely that a male child will get breast cancer than penile cancer - in the US the rate of penile cancer is less than 1 in 100,000 men, while the risk of male breast cancer is 1 in 833. In addition, individuals who get the HPV vaccine in early adolescence are most likely at even lower risk, as infection with HPV is strongly associated with penile cancer risk.
- Complications from medications: Circumcision is a surgical procedure that requires multiple medications, such as lidocaine injection, lidocaine-prilocaine cream, topical antibiotics, and acetaminophen. All medications carry some risk of adverse effects. These may include allergic reactions, rash, digestive upset, irritability, and issues with oxidative stress / detoxification pathways.
- Botched surgery / amputations: botched surgeries are a rare but tragic outcome of routine circumcision. Common types of botched surgeries include partial or total amputation of the head of the penis and the removal of too much skin, resulting in painful erections later in life and the need for skin grafting and revisionary surgeries. Necrosis of the penis or even total loss of the penis have been reported.
There is currently research underway to investigate the potential links between neonatal circumcision and SIDS, or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. SIDS is more common in male infants than female, and it is more common in countries and communities that have a high circumcision rate. There is some concern that the trauma of circumcision causes dysregulation of the nervous system in newborns and abnormal levels of serotonin which reduce a baby's ability to wake up if they are unable to breathe.
- Pros and cons of circumcision: an evidence-based overview, B. Friedman, Clinical Microbiology and Infection
- A longitudinal population analysis of cumulative risks of circumcision, Y. Hung et al, Journal of Surgical Research
- Routine circumcision: the opposing view, A. MacNeily, Canadian Urological Association Journal
- The psychological impact of circumcision, R Goldman, British Journal of Urology