February 8th, 2016
Penile cancer is a malignant tumor on the penis or in the penis that begins from uncontrolled growth of cells. In the case of penile cancer, the cells that become malignant are usually, in 95% of cases, the flat skin cells known as squamous cells. Penile cancer usually grows slowly, but it can spread to other parts of the body, like other cancers. To understand why circumcision lowers the risk of penile cancer, it is helpful to examine the risk factors associated with penile cancer.
Researchers have found that human papilloma virus (HPV) occurs in about 40% of penile cancer. Human papilloma virus is a virus associated with development of cervical cancer in women and with penile cancer in men. Some subtypes of HPV cause genital warts, which also increase the risk of penile cancer by as much as 3.7 times. Half of all men with penile cancer have genital warts caused by HPV.
There are also risks associated with poor hygiene. Smegma, which is the substance that accumulates beneath the foreskin, is not carcinogenic, but the American Cancer Society says that accumulation of smegma may cause an increased risk of penile cancer simply by increasing irritation and inflammation.
Injury to the foreskin or the glans penis can occur from conditions like balantitis and phimosis. Balantitis causes inflammation of the penis, which increases the risk of penile cancer by as much as 3.1 times. Phimosis is a medical condition that prevents retraction of the foreskin over the glans penis and is associated with a significantly increased risk of penile cancer.
Other risk factors include tobacco, ultraviolet light exposure, age, and the skin disorder known as lichen sclerosus.
Circumcision has been shown to provide some protection against development of penile cancer. There are several probable mechanisms that are responsible for the protection afforded by circumcision, including the reduction of transmission of HPV and other sexually transmitted diseases; protection against balanitis, phimosis, and other contributory conditions; and greater ease of genital hygiene. Reduction of the risk of penile cancer is a significant impetus to many men who choose to undergo adult circumcision.
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