If you suddenly start hearing more Canadians saying they’re glad they were circumcised, don’t be too surprised. A new Canadian study has produced data which suggests this ancient practice may actually offer men some protection against prostate cancer.
The experts involved in the study theorize that this connection may be the result of a lower rate of sexually transmitted diseases (STD) among men who’ve been circumcised. Related cancer studies have shown that men with a history of STDs are more likely to develop prostate cancer. Of course, more research will be required to confirm this theory.
“It’s still premature to say go ahead with circumcision to prevent prostate cancer,” explained lead author Marie-Elise Parent. “But, we think it could be helpful.”
A New Theory on Circumcision
Her team interviewed more than 3,000 men and found that those who were circumcised during infancy were 14 percent less likely to develop prostate cancer compared to uncircumcised men. Those who’d undergone the procedure in adulthood were 45 percent less likely to get this cancer (a disease that does not produce many noticeable symptoms) than their uncircumcised counterparts.
Studies have already shown that Jewish and Muslim men exhibited lower rates of prostate cancer compared to men in the West. This team of experts theorized that circumcision could have some impact on their risk for cancer.
Parent knew that she’d need to recruit a large number of participants in order to get an accurate assessment of this association. She and her colleagues from the University of Quebec’s INRS-Institut Armand-Frappier found approximately 3,208 cooperative subjects in the Montreal area.
Here’s some quick specs on the participant population chosen for this study:
- The participants were all between 40 and 75 years old when recruited
- 1,590 of these men had been diagnosed with prostate cancer
- 1,618 men were of comparable health and age, but they were cancer free
The cancer clinical study spanned more than 5 years (2006 to 2011). Each participant was asked in-depth questions about the following topics:
- Medical history
- Family history of cancer
- Work history
(40 percent of the white participants and 30 percent of the black participants in the study were circumcised.)
Mixed Conclusions from this Prostate Cancer Study
Parent and her team concluded that the circumcised men exhibited an 11 percent lower risk for prostate cancer when accounting for the entire study group. Unfortunately, this is not a large enough difference, as it could still be explained by a coincidental difference.
At the same time, they found that circumcised black men were 60 percent less likely to developed prostate cancer than uncircumcised men.
Prostate cancer is a serious problem here in the U.S., with more than 3 million men living with the disease. It’s currently the second leading cause of cancer related death among men.
Looking at the Current Rate of Circumcision
Most of the men born in the 70’s and 80’s were circumcised as infants according to specialists like Dr. Aaron Tobian of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. But it appears that this rate has been declining in recent years.
A reported 62.5 percent of male infants born in 1999 were circumcised, compared to nearly 80 percent a decade earlier. As of 2010, the rate of circumcision has fallen below 55 percent. Tobian remarks that this procedure is not usually covered by most healthcare plans.
Was This Study Actually Conclusive?
Other specialists like Dr. Christopher Cooper, a urologist at the University of Iowa, don’t believe that this cancer clinical study has provided enough clear-cut evidence to draw any conclusions on the role circumcision may play here. Cooper claims the patient pool was not large enough to justify circumcision as a method of prostate cancer prevention.
Studies of this kind can be difficult as many of these inferences rely on the participants’ honesty— something that the research team cannot control.
Parent defends the work that her team has done, and she believes that this is now a factor that should be kept in mind during future studies on prostate cancer.
“We are too early in the game to make it a public recommendation. It could be that in the future it will be confirmed that it’s a good thing and may have an added protection from other diseases,” adds Parent.