Circumcision: Medical Pros and Cons

  • Medical Author:
    David Perlstein, MD, MBA, FAAP

    Dr. Perlstein received his Medical Degree from the University of Cincinnati and then completed his internship and residency in pediatrics at The New York Hospital, Cornell medical Center in New York City. After serving an additional year as Chief Pediatric Resident, he worked as a private practitioner and then was appointed Director of Ambulatory Pediatrics at St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

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What is newborn circumcision?

Newborn circumcision consists of removal of the foreskin -- the foreskin is resected to near the coronal sulcus -- in the newborn period (before the age of 2 months).

Incidentally, the Latin circum means around (or about). Circumcision is a cutting around.

What is the status of the foreskin at birth?

Few boys are born with a retractable foreskin. This reflects the fact that the tissue development of the foreskin is usually not complete at birth.

The foreskin is thus not fully separable from the glans in most newborn boys. By 1 year of age, the foreskin can be retracted in about half of boys, and by 3 years, the foreskin can be retracted in a majority of uncircumcised boys.

What does this have to do with circumcision?

It means that the inability to retract the foreskin at birth and in infancy is normal and does not constitute a medical reason for a circumcision.

What is phimosis?

Phimosis is a medical indication for circumcision. It is defined as "stenosis of the preputial ring with resultant inability to retract a fully differentiated foreskin." In other words, phimosis is present if the foreskin cannot be retracted at an age when it should normally be retractable.

What is the treatment for phimosis?

Phimosis can be treated by circumcision or by surgical enlargement of the phimotic ring, the ring of tissue causing the phimosis.

What is paraphimosis?

Paraphimosis occurs when the foreskin, once retracted, cannot return to its original location. The foreskin is trapped behind the groove of the coronal sulcus. Paraphimosis causes blood to pool in the veins behind the entrapment, which induces swelling. The swelling leads to severe pain in the penis and makes it impossible to return the foreskin manually to its original location.

What is the treatment for paraphimosis?

The foreskin, after lubrication, can sometimes be reduced. However, this works only if the paraphimosis is discovered very early. Because of the pain, the child has to have a short-acting general anesthetic or heavy sedation for the treatment. Paraphimosis may be treated by circumcision.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/6/2015

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