Men's Health Our Health

Can Being Cut Prevent Cancer?

New study finds lower risk of prostate cancer in circumcised black men

A new study adds fodder to the circumcision debate with findings that suggest the procedure might have a preventive effect on prostate cancer in black men. Prostate cancer, the second-leading cause (behind lung cancer) of cancer death in American men, is diagnosed in one in seven men, killing one in 36. African-American men have the highest rates of prostate cancer in the world, and their mortality rate is more than twice that of white men.

The study’s authors caution that their findings are preliminary, and they don’t suggest circumcision lowers the risk of prostate cancer for most men nor do they recommend the procedure as a strategy for cancer prevention.

But “it may be that circumcision should be considered as an option for men at higher risk, such as black men and men with a family history of prostate cancer,” says study co-author Marie-Elise Parent, an associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Quebec’s INRS-Institut Armand-Frappier Research Center in Laval, Canada. “But we need more research to confirm this.”

Previous research has suggested that circumcision could slightly reduce the risk of prostate cancer. In the new study, researchers analyzed the medical records of more than 1,500 men treated for prostate cancer at a Montreal hospital from 2005-09 and compared the records to a similar number of men who didn’t have the disease. Though there was no statistically significant difference in prostate cancer rates between circumcised and uncircumcised men, there was a 60 percent lower risk of the disease among circumcised black men.

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“We still know very little about the potential causes of prostate cancer,” Parent says. “All we know for sure is that risk of developing it increases with age, that having a father, brother or son with prostate cancer increases one’s risk, and that this cancer is more frequent among men of African ancestry.”

Circumcision also has been linked to lower rates of sexually transmitted infections like HIV. But it remains a hot-potato issue, with critics calling the procedure barbaric. Rates of circumcision among newborn boys have dropped in the U.S. in the last three decades.

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Tazminur Chowdhury