Circumcision is a surgical procedure where the foreskin of the penis is removed. It is a practice that dates back to ancient times with the earliest evidence of it being found in a 4,000-year-old Egyptian tomb. While circumcision continues to be practiced for cultural and religious reasons, in more modern times, it has been found to have some health benefits as well. Most people know what circumcision is and have strong opinions on whether or not it should be performed on their child, however, many parents are unaware of the details of this simple procedure, including the risks and benefits.
The foreskin, also known as the prepuce, is a fold of skin which hangs over the penis when it is flaccid. In infants and young boys, the foreskin is firmly attached to the head of the penis and can’t be retracted. As they get older, the adhesions gradually start to loosen making it easier for the foreskin to be retracted. This process can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few years, but most boys will be able to retract their foreskin by the time they are five years old. This bit of information is very important because new parents are often worried about the fact that their son’s foreskin isn’t able to be retracted. Many times, they make the mistake of forcibly retracting the foreskin, resulting in rips, tears, and sometimes compromising blood flow to the head of the penis – a medical emergency.
While it is not medically necessary to remove the foreskin, there are benefits to having this procedure done. For parents, it eases some of the anxiety associated with foreskin hygiene. For physicians and patients, however, the key benefit is reducing the risk of infections. For the first six months of life, boys are at increased risk of developing a urinary tract infection when compared to girls. Circumcision reduces that risk. For adolescent boys and men, circumcision reduces the risk of sexually transmitted infections including HIV. Circumcision is also helpful in preventing penile problems like phimosis – a condition where the foreskin on an uncircumcised penis can be difficult or impossible to retract. This can lead to inflammation of the foreskin or head of the penis. Additionally, circumcision has been shown to decrease the risk of penile cancer. Although cancer of the penis is rare, it’s less common in circumcised men. Cervical cancer is less common in the female sexual partners of circumcised men.
No medical procedure is completely without risk. When it comes to circumcision, the common complications are bleeding and infection. In fact, circumcision is not performed in patients who are known to have clotting disorders. Other rare risks include the foreskin being cut too long or too short, improper healing of the foreskin, or remaining foreskin reattaching itself to the head of the penis.
Circumcision, even with its long history of being performed and reported health benefits, remains a controversial subject for some. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) notes that the benefits of circumcision outweigh the risks. At the end of the day, the decision to snip this little piece of skin – or not – rests with the parents. If you are considering this procedure for your son, sit with your pediatrician to discuss the risks and benefits. Remember, we are here to help you raise happy and healthy kids.
• Dr. Tamarra Moss is a pediatrician committed to helping you raise happy and healthy kids. You can find her at Dr. Carlos Thomas & Pediatric Associates in Nassau, Lucayan Medical Center in Grand Bahama, or on Instagram @mykidsdoc242.