Circumcision is an age-old practice typically performed for religious beliefs. However, a recent study reported that circumcised men have less of a chance of spreading HPV (human papilloma virus) to their female partners. HPV has been found to be a primary cause of cervical cancer. As a result, those female partners have a lower risk of developing cervical cancer as compared to those women whose male partners are not circumcised.
HPV infections are a group of over 150 viruses, approximately 40 of which are sexually transmitted. Two types of the viruses, HPV-6 and HPV-11, cause genital warts; however the warts may take weeks to months to appear after exposure and in some people may never develop, though they have been infected with the virus. It has been found that HPV infections are the cause of virtually all cervical cancers. “It was estimated that, in 2010, about 12,000 women in the United States would be diagnosed with this type of cancer and more than 4,000 would die from it," according to the National Cancer Institute.
Dr. Maria Wawer and other researchers from John Hopkins University in Baltimore performed two parallel studies in Uganda between the years of 2003 to 2006. They enrolled non-HIV males and non-HIV females who were divided into two groups. One group had circumcisions performed at the start of the study and the other (the control group) had circumcisions performed 24 months later. HPV infections were diagnosed using vaginal swabs. At the end of the two years, 27.8 percent of women whose steady partners had circumcisions developed HPV versus 38.7 percent of the women with non-circumcised partners, a 10 percent reduction.
Circumcision is thought to prevent the spread of HPV infections due to the finding that the foreskin of the penis is rich in immune cells. It has been found that HIV infections occur at a higher rate in non-circumcised males and it is believed that removal of this skin prevents the occurrence of other viral infections as well.
“Male circumcision has now been shown to decrease HIV, herpes simplex virus-2 and HPV infections,” according to Wawer’s team.