Does Circumcision Prevent HIV and AIDS?

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Ask the experts

I've heard that circumcision can prevent HIV and AIDS? True?

Doctor's response

The risk of heterosexual HIV infection is 2 to 8 times higher for uncircumcised men than for men who have been circumcised. This increased risk of HIV infection appears attributable to the foreskin of the penis which provides a vulnerable portal of entry to HIV and other disease-causing organisms.

he foreskin is susceptible to small scratches and tears during intercourse and contains a high density of Langerhans cells which are primary target cells for HIV. A foreskin also increases a man's risk of contracting other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) such as syphilis, herpes, and chancroid that are known cofactors for HIV infection. The fact that circumcision may help prevent HIV and other STDs needs to figure in the decision whether a boy (or man) should be circumcised.

While circumcision may reduce the risk of HIV, it does not by any means provide full protection against HIV infection. Circumcision cannot and does not eliminate the risk of HIV infection and AIDS. (Reference: Lancet 1999;354:1813-1815.)

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Reviewed on 1/11/2018