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Case for Circumcision: Public Health Benefit?

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(BALTIMORE) -- When parents put their baby boys under the knife for circumcision, it's usually for religious or cultural reasons, but mounting evidence suggests that the removal of the foreskin might also serve a public health purpose: reducing the spread of human papillomavirus (HPV).

Not only does past research show that circumcised men are 32-35 percent less likely to contract HPV, but a new study published in The Lancet Thursday shows that women whose partners are circumcised are 28 percent less likely to become infected with HPV.

This finding has particular weight considering that persistent infections with high-risk strains of HPV in women can lead to cervical cancer.  Cervical cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths internationally for women.

Over the past five years, randomized control trials have shown that circumcision decreases the risk of HIV, HPV and herpes.  In women it reduces the risk of bacterial vaginosis, trichomoniasis, and now HPV.  Though these studies have been done in African countries, their findings, including Thursday's, support observational studies already performed in the U.S., says study author Dr. Aaron Tobian of Johns Hopkins University.

Given this evidence, Tobian says it's disquieting to see the rate of circumcision in the U.S. decline as it has in recent decades.  Though estimates vary between data sources, one CDC presentation put in-hospital neonatal circumcisions, which leaves those done in the Jewish ritual circumcisions at 32.5 percent in 2009, compared to 56 percent in 2006 and somewhere around 65 percent in the 1980s.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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