Circumcision Complications Are Very Rare, Study Finds

A newborn baby boy lies on a blue blanket
The circumcision rate in U.S. has declined over the last three decades, according to a new report. (Image credit: <a href=''>Baby boy photo</a> via Shutterstock)

The percentage of boys in the United States who develop complications related to circumcision is less than 0.5 percent, according to a large new study.

The risk is the lowest for newborns, but increases 10 to 20 times for boys who are circumcised after age 1, the researchers also found.

The researchers reviewed medical records of 1.4 million boys who were circumcised between 2001 and 2010 in the United States, and looked at the rates of 16 complications that could be associated with the circumcision procedure.

"Part of the debate about whether male circumcision should be recommended is about the adverse events of it," said study researcher Charbel El Bcheraoui, acting assistant professor at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.

"If you are considering this for your children or yourself as an adult, or if you are a clinician counseling your patient about circumcision, what you need to know is that the risk [of complications] is low, and is lowest at the first year of life," El Bcheraoui told Live Science.

About 4,000 boys in the study had any complications, and the most common complications were minor, such as bleeding and wounds, according to the study. [5 Things You Didn't Know About Circumcision]

The rate of potentially serious complications was even lower. In about 700 cases out of every 1 million procedures, boys needed additional surgery to repair an incomplete circumcision, and only a handful of cases included in the study involved serious injuries to the penis, according to the study published today (May 12) in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

The percentage of newborns who are circumcised in the United States has been declining in recent decades. In 2010, 58.3 percent of newborns were circumcised, down from 64.5 percent in 1979, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Studies have found health benefits for male circumcision; circumcised men have lower risk of urinary tract infections in infancy, and of getting penile cancer or acquiring HIV from an infected partner later on.

For female partners, male circumcision reduces the risk of cervical cancer, genital ulceration, bacterial vaginosis and HPV, according to the CDC.

In its guidelines updated in 2012, the American Academy of Pediatrics said that the health benefits of newborn male circumcision outweigh the risks. However, the AAP said, the benefits are not great enough to recommend circumcision for everyone, and the decision should still be left to parents.

Email Bahar Gholipour. Follow us @LiveScience, Facebook & Google+. Original article on Live Science.

Bahar Gholipour
Staff Writer
Bahar Gholipour is a staff reporter for Live Science covering neuroscience, odd medical cases and all things health. She holds a Master of Science degree in neuroscience from the École Normale Supérieure (ENS) in Paris, and has done graduate-level work in science journalism at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. She has worked as a research assistant at the Laboratoire de Neurosciences Cognitives at ENS.