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Blacks and Health: Male Circumcision May Protect Women Against Cervical Cancer

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Research has confirmed that cervical cancer is primarily caused by two specific strains of the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV). Thus, since HPV is a sexually transmitted virus, the No. 1 risk factor of developing cervical cancer is simply being sexually active.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that African American women had higher rates of HPV-associated cervical cancer than white women. Moreover, they report that African American women also appeared to have higher rates of HPV-associated vaginal cancer. The American Cancer Society reports that cervical cancer kills African American women more often than any other race.

A new study may shed some details on how to reduce risk outside of abstaining from sex. The findings suggest that circumcision reduces the risk of both sexually transmitted infections in men and possibly their future sexual partners. Published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases, the findings show that women are less likely to become infected if their partner has been circumcised.

Dr. Bertran Auvert of the University of Versailles in France and colleagues in South Africa tested more than 1,200 men visiting a clinic in South Africa. Results showed that less than 15 percent of the circumcised men and 22 percent of the uncircumcised men were infected with the human papillomavirus.

A similar investigation conducted by Carrie Nielson, of Oregon Health & Science University, found some indication that circumcision might protect men since they observed that circumcised men were about half as likely to have HPV as uncircumcised men. In the third report, Lee Warner of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention examined African American men in Baltimore and found 10 percent of those at high risk of infection with HIV who were circumcised had the virus, compared to 22 percent of those who were not.

Human papillomavirus is common and infects both men and women and is the main cause of cervical cancer and genital warts. Having sex at an early age, having several sexual partners, having a partner who has had several sexual partners, and having a history of chlamydia are strong risk factors for contracting HPV. –torrance stephens, ph.d.