OBJECTIVES: Globally approximately 25% of men are circumcised for religious, cultural, medical, or parental choice reasons. However, controversy surrounds the procedure, and its benefits and risks to health. We review current knowledge of the health benefits and risks associated with male circumcision. METHODS: We have used, where available, previously conducted reviews of the relation between male circumcision and specific outcomes as "benchmarks", and updated them by searching the Medline database for more recent information. RESULTS: There is substantial evidence that circumcision protects males from HIV infection, penile carcinoma, urinary tract infections, and ulcerative sexually transmitted diseases. We could find little scientific evidence of adverse effects on sexual, psychological, or emotional health. Surgical risks associated with circumcision, particularly bleeding, penile injury, and local infection, as well as the consequences of the pain experienced with neonatal circumcision, are valid concerns that require appropriate responses. CONCLUSION: Further analyses of the utility and cost effectiveness of male circumcision as a preventive health measure should, in the light of this information, be research and policy priorities. A decision as to whether to recommend male circumcision in a given society should be based upon an assessment of the risk for and occurrence of the diseases which are associated with the presence of the foreskin, versus the risk of the complications of the procedure. In order for individuals and their families to make an informed decision, they should be provided with the best available evidence regarding the known benefits and risks.
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