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Neonatal circumcision: Risks and benefits

Laurence S Baskin, MD, FAAP
Section Editors
Charles J Lockwood, MD, MHCM
John G Bartlett, MD
Duncan Wilcox, MD
Deputy Editor
Kristen Eckler, MD, FACOG


Circumcision in the male refers to the surgical removal of the prepuce (ie, foreskin) of the penis. The procedure is centuries old and continues to be performed for a variety of religious, cultural, and medical reasons.

Parents of newborn males often have questions about circumcision: Is it necessary? What are its benefits? What are its risks? In addition to these medical issues, other factors that influence parental decision-making include the father's circumcision status, opinions of family members and friends, a desire for conformity in their son's appearance, and the belief that the circumcised penis is easier to keep clean [1-3].

The risks and benefits of circumcision will be reviewed here, with the focus on circumcision of neonates. Procedures for neonatal circumcision are discussed separately. (See "Techniques for neonatal circumcision".)


Normal penile development and anatomy — (See "Techniques for neonatal circumcision", section on 'Development and anatomy'.)

Prevalence and epidemiology — The United States is the only country in the developed world where the majority of male infants are circumcised for nonreligious reasons. Circumcision rates in the United States vary according to geographic area, socioeconomic status, religious affiliation, insurance coverage, hospital type, and racial and ethnic group. The overall prevalence is estimated to be about 80 percent for males aged 14 to 59 years, with most of these procedures performed in newborns [4]. Circumcision rates are highest in the Midwestern states (74 percent), followed by the Northeastern states (67 percent) and Southern states (61 percent), and are lowest in the Western states (30 percent) [5]. The rate is higher in non-Hispanic whites (91 percent) than in non-Hispanic blacks (76 percent) and Mexican Americans (44 percent) [4].

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Literature review current through: Sep 2017. | This topic last updated: Mar 10, 2017.
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