Does Male Circumcision Protect against Sexually Transmitted Infections? Arguments and Meta-Analyses to the Contrary Fail to Withstand Scrutiny

ISRN Urol. 2014 May 13;2014:684706. doi: 10.1155/2014/684706. eCollection 2014.


We critically evaluate a recent article by Van Howe involving 12 meta-analyses that concludes, contrary to current evidence, that male circumcision increases the risk of various common sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Our detailed scrutiny reveals that these meta-analyses (1) failed to include results of all relevant studies, especially data from randomized controlled trials, (2) introduced bias through use of inappropriate control groups, (3) altered original data, in the case of human papillomavirus (HPV), by questionable adjustments for "sampling bias," (4) failed to control for confounders through use of crude odds ratios, and (5) used unnecessarily complicated methods without adequate explanation, so impeding replication by others. Interventions that can reduce the prevalence of STIs are important to international health. Of major concern is the global epidemic of oncogenic types of HPV that contribute to the burden of genital cancers. Meta-analyses, when well conducted, can better inform public health policy and medical practice, but when seriously flawed can have detrimental consequences. Our critical evaluation leads us to reject the findings and conclusions of Van Howe on multiple grounds. Our timely analysis thus reaffirms the medical evidence supporting male circumcision as a desirable intervention for STI prevention.

Publication types

  • Review