Ask Dr. Marla: Circumcision



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Question:

We’re expecting our second child. If it’s a boy, we’re planning to get him circumcised so he will ‘look’ like his father. But our friends think we’re crazy. Aren’t there health benefits to this procedure?

Answer:

Neither the Canadian Paediatric Society nor American Pediatric Society support recommending circumcision as a routine procedure for newborns. The American Pediatric Society is said to be looking at reevaluating their policy on this issue. This is considered a ‘non therapeutic’ procedure, meaning it is not medically indicated. The overall evidence of the benefits and harms of circumcision is thought to be evenly balanced according to the Canadian Paediatric Society. The Society outlines these potential benefits and risks:

Of every 1,000 boys who ARE circumcised:

  • 20 to 30 will have a surgical complication, such as too much bleeding or infection in the area.
  • 2 to 3 will have a more serious complication that needs more treatment. Examples include having too much skin removed or more serious bleeding.
  • 2 will be admitted to hospital for a urinary tract infection (UTI) before they are one year old.
  • About 10 babies may need to have the circumcision done again because of a poor result.
  • Circumcision slightly lowers the risk of developing cancer of the penis in later life.

Of every 1,000 boys who ARE NOT circumcised:

  • 7 will be admitted to hospital for a UTI before they are one year old, slightly higher than circumcized babies.
  • 10 will have a circumcision later in life for medical reasons, such as a condition called phimosis. Phimosis is when the opening of the foreskin is scarred and narrow because of infections in the area that keep coming back. Older children who are circumcised may need a general anesthetic, and may have more complications than newborns.

Appropriate attention needs to be paid to pain relief. In rare cases, pain relief methods and medicines can cause side effects and complications. Talk to your baby’s doctor about the possible risks. The decision to circumcize, as in your case, may ultimately be based on personal, religious or cultural factors.



Published March 2010

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