Warning on unnecessary child circumcision

13/02/2003

Embargoed until 12.00 Noon Sunday 16 February 2003

A high rate of unnecessary circumcision surgery for phimosis - a pathological condition where the foreskin cannot be retracted - has been detected in boys aged under five, despite the rarity of the condition in children of this age, and a marked overall fall in the rate of circumcision in Australia.

New research published in the latest Medical Journal of Australia shows that in a review of all circumcisions of boys from infancy to 15 years and over in WA hospitals from 1981-1999, the rate of surgery for phimosis was consistently highest in boys aged 0-4 years, while those aged 10-14 years showed the greatest change with the rate increasing by 70% from 1981 to 1999.

Severe phimosis can cause pain, urinary tract infections and may be associated with sexual dysfunction and cancer later in life. But the research team, headed by Dr Katrina Spilsbury, at the University of Western Australia's School of Population Health says young boys with a confirmed diagnosis do not necessarily need to be circumcised, pointing out that topical steroids have been shown to be a cost-effective approach to reversing the condition within four to six weeks.

The team adds that if the 1999 rate remains stable, about 4 per cent of all boys will be circumcised for phimosis by the time they reach 15 - a rate seven times higher than the estimated occurrence of pathological phimosis.

The WA Uni team also cite a UK report that shows only 4 per cent of newborns had a completely retractable foreskin, but that by two years, this had increased to 80 per cent.

The Medical Journal of Australia is a publication of the Australian Medical Association.

CONTACT: Dr Katrina Spilsbury, P: 08 9380 8501, E: skatrina@dph.uwa.edu.au

                Judith Tokley, AMA, P: 0408 824 306