NewScientist.com, April 2, 2002
Increasing the rate of male circumcision could slash cases of cervical cancer in women, according to a new report.
A team led by Xavier Castellsagué at Llobregat Hospital in Barcelona reviewed seven studies from five countries on a total of almost 2000 couples.
Women with "low-risk" partners - men who had previously had fewer than six sexual partners - had a similar risk of cervical cancer, whether their partner was circumcised or not. But women with "high-risk" partners were 58 per cent less likely to develop cervical cancer if their partner had been circumcised.
The team also found that Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) was present in almost 20 per cent of uncircumcised men, but in fewer than six per cent of circumcised men. HPV is sexually transmitted and contributes to the development of nearly all cases of cervical cancer. Circumcision is important because the inner lining of the foreskin is thought to be especially vulnerable to infection.
A link between male circumcision and reduced risk of cervical cancer has long been suspected. But the new study quantifies that risk.
"If we assume that 25 per cent of men around the world are circumcised, then the general adoption of circumcision might lead to a further reduction in the incidence of cancer of the cervix of 23 per cent to 43 per cent," write Hans-Olov Adami of the Karolinksa Institute in Sweden and Dimitrios Trichopoulos of the Harvard School of Public Health, US, in a New England Journal of Medicine editorial accompanying the research paper.
Worldwide, there are about 466,000 cases of cervical cancer each year. The disease is easily cured if detected early enough, and most deaths occur in the developing world.
Castellsagué's team used data from Brazil, Spain, Thailand, Colombia and the Philippines.
Journal reference: New England Journal of Medicine (vol 346, p 1105)
See also the Section The Link between Circumcision and Penile Cancer.