A man who is circumcised appears to have less risk for contracting penile human papillomavirus (HPV) infections, which may lead to a deduced risk of cervical cancer for his female partner.
HPV can cause genital warts in men and women, and has been linked to cancers of the cervix, vulva, vagina, anus and penis, according to the study, published in a recent issue of The New England Journal of Medicine.
To investigate whether male circumcision might cut the risk of HPV in both men and women, Dr. Xavier Castellsague of the Hospitalet de Llobregat in Barcelona, Spain, and an international team of researchers evaluated the prevalence of HPV infection in more than 1,900 couples living in five different countries.
Penile HPV was detected in 166 (20%) of the 847 uncircumcised men and in 16 (6%) of the 292 circumcised men, the authors report. After adjusting for age of first intercourse and lifetime number of sexual partners, among other factors, the investigators found that being circumcised reduced a man’s risk of HPV infection by 63%.
In addition, the authors report that monogamous women whose male partners and were circumcised had a 58% reduction in their risk for cervical cancer.
“The current study indicates that circumcision of men at high risk of penile HPV infection may reduce the overall risk of cervical cancer among their female partners by 50% or more,” Dr. Hans-OlovAdami of the Karolinska Institue in Stockholm, Sweden, and Dr.Dimitrios Trichopoulos of the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, Massachusetts, write in an accompanying editorial.
“If we assume that 25% 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% to 43%,” they add.
Adami and Trichopolous point out that regular use of condoms may also prevent the sexual transmission of HPV and therefore prevent cervical cancer.
“The use of condoms can, at least in theory, be targeted to men involved in high-risk sexual behaviour,” they write.
Adami and Trichopolous conclude that “whether interventions intended to increase the rate of circumcision are a realistic and quantitatively important addition to other strategies to combat cancer of the cervix remains to be documented.”