Background: The risks associated with newborn circumcision have not been as extensively evaluated as the benefits.
Objectives: The goals of this study were threefold: 1) to derive a population-based complication rate for newborn circumcision; 2) to calculate the number needed to harm for newborn circumcision based on this rate; and 3) to establish trade-offs based on our complication rates and published estimates of the benefits of circumcision including the prevention of urinary tract infections and penile cancer.
Methods: Using the Comprehensive Hospital Abstract Reporting System for Washington State, we retrospectively examined routine newborn circumcisions performed over 9 years (1987-1996). We used International Classification of Diseases, Ninth Revision codes to identify both circumcisions and complications and limited our analyses to children without other surgical procedures performed during their initial birth hospitalization.
Results: Of 354, 297 male infants born during the study period, 130,475 (37%) were circumcised during their newborn stay. Overall 287 (.2%) of circumcised children and 33 (.01%) of uncircumcised children had complications potentially associated with circumcision coded as a discharge diagnosis. Based on our findings, a complication can be expected in 1 out every 476 circumcisions. Six urinary tract infections can be prevented for every complication endured and almost 2 complications can be expected for every case of penile cancer prevented.
Conclusions: Circumcision remains a relatively safe procedure. However, for some parents, the risks we report may outweigh the potential benefits. This information may help parents seeking guidance to make an informed decision.