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Last Update: August 22, 2022.

Continuing Education Activity

Male circumcision is the surgical removal of the prepuce, or foreskin, that covers the glans of the penis. Over the past decades, cultural changes and new research have led to a closer examination of the practice of circumcision. This activity reviews the indications, contraindications, and technique involved in performing circumcision and highlights the role of the interprofessional team in the care of patients undergoing this procedure.


  • Identify the anatomical structures involved in routine circumcision.
  • Describe the equipment required to perform a circumcision.
  • Review the complications of circumcision.
  • Explain a structured interprofessional team approach to provide effective care to and appropriate surveillance of patients undergoing circumcision.
Access free multiple choice questions on this topic.


Circumcision is the surgical removal of the prepuce (foreskin) covering the glans of the penis. The practice of circumcision has existed for thousands of years as part of cultural and religious teachings.[1] It was highly regarded as a rite of passage to adulthood and a hygienic process. Over the past decades, cultural changes and new research have led to a closer examination of the circumcision practice. Recent knowledge of female circumcision has also fueled the discussions on the validity of male circumcision.[2][3][4][5]

Anatomy and Physiology

The penis can be divided into the dorsal surface, ventral surface, base (proximal), shaft (middle) and glans (distal). The dorsal region contains the superficial dorsal vein, deep dorsal vein, dorsal artery, and dorsal nerve. This dorsal nerve is anesthetized during the dorsal nerve block to aid with pain control during circumcisions.

The major components of the penis include the urethra, corpora cavernosa, corpus spongiosum, glans, and the foreskin. The 2 corpora cavernosa lie ventral to the dorsal nerves and vasculature. They become engorged with blood to promote erection. The corpus spongiosum lies ventral to the corpora cavernosa. It houses the urethra. The urethra starts at the bladder and runs through the length of the penis to end at the glans of the penis. The foreskin covers the entire penis and is trimmed distally during circumcision to expose the glans.


Medical indications for circumcision include but are not limited to phimosis, paraphimosis, and chronic urinary tract infections. Elective circumcision may be indicated in regions with increased HIV and human papillomavirus (HPV).


Contraindications to circumcisions include an unhealthy infant, anatomic pathology, and bleeding disorders. The general health of the infant should be assessed before the procedure. In most cases, circumcision is an elective procedure and can be delayed. The procedure should be postponed if the infant is found to have electrolyte or metabolic abnormalities (e.g., hypoglycemia), a bacterial infection, has yet to urinate, or to has a hypoxic cardiac disorder. The penis should be evaluated for anatomical anomalies such as micropenis, concealed penis, swelling of the foreskin, and hypospadias. Any infant with a bleeding disorder or a strong family history of bleeding disorders should only undergo the circumcision at a healthcare facility with the proper subspecialist.[6][7]


The practice of circumcision is not limited to medical professionals. As a result, standards of pain control, hygiene, technique, and outcomes cannot be guaranteed. The family of the patient must interview the personnel performing the circumcision. The person performing the procedure usually can provide the family with a portfolio of their outcomes.


Proper pain control should be administered for the circumcision. It should be noted that a sugar-based oral solution alone is not an adequate pain control for infants. Effective analgesia is highly dependent on the person performing the procedure. Many infants are treated with a combination of oral sucrose solutions, topical analgesics like lidocaine cream 4% (LMX-4), lidocaine/prilocaine cream, and injected analgesics such as lidocaine without epinephrine or bupivacaine.[8][9][10]

Technique or Treatment

There are various methods for circumcision. The goal of each method consists of removal both the inner and outer preputial skin while not injuring the underlying glans and urethra. The procedure should take minutes when performed on the newborn. However, it becomes more complicated when performed on adults. The healing phase and result depend on the procedure used. Below are common methods used for circumcision.[11][12][13][14]


Circumcision does not lower the risk of gonorrhea, chlamydia, or syphilis. However, circumcised heterosexual males have an averaged 40% to 60% reduction in acquiring HIV in regions with a high HIV heterosexual population, for example, areas in Africa. There is also a lower prevalence of human papillomavirus (HPV) infection and herpes simplex virus type 2 transmission.[15][16][17]


Surgical risks include, but are not limited to, infection, incision of the glans and urethra, necrosis of the glans, foreskin adhesions, phimosis, or penile loss.[15][17]

Clinical Significance

Current Recommendations

AAP Statement

In an update to the 1999 recommendations, new evidence indicated that health benefits outweighed the complications for newborn male circumcisions. There was found to be a reduction in urinary tract infections, sexually transmitted infections, acquisition of HIV, and penile cancer. Circumcision was not associated with a decrease in sexual function and satisfaction. All families should be given the proper information regarding circumcision. These statements have also been endorsed by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.[15][18][19]

AAFP Statement

Family physicians should provide the family with information in an unbiased manner. Neonatal circumcision has potential health benefits in the reduction of urinary tract infection, sexually transmitted infections and penile cancer. However, circumcision is not without complications. Now the HPV vaccine alone may aid in the reduction of penile cancer.

American Urologic Association

The circumcised newborn infant will experience the risks and complications associated with the procedure. During the first three to six months of life, the incidence of urinary tract infections is significantly higher in uncircumcised boys. The circumcised adult will profit from reduced health illnesses. The benefits and risks should be discussed with the family.

Enhancing Healthcare Team Outcomes

This article is intended to be a short review of circumcision. As part of the education, the reader must be aware of the evolving view of circumcision. The AAP revised its 1999 policy on circumcision to be more pro-circumcision. This statement has reignited the debate.

The anti-circumcision papers cite many reasons not to undergo the procedure. Bringing female circumcision to the mainstream has placed male circumcision under a similar spotlight. The procedure is described as a painful procedure that is needed to push the male into manhood. This trauma can then lead to sexual difficulties. It has been proposed that the procedure should be delayed until the male can decide for himself.

Healthcare professionals do not all agree with disease prevention benefits. The HIV reduction is most prevalent in decreasing heterosexual transmission in regions with large HIV population, for example in parts of Africa). Thus, this fact needs to be included in the counseling conversation with families who are not from these regions.

HPV transmission can be reduced by circumcision. This point may become obsolete with the increased use of the HPV vaccine.

Providers must be educated about and understand religious doctrines, research findings, and cultural teachings surrounding circumcisions. The data must be provided to each family in an unbiased version. The provider must also be able to relate the data to the unique family situation.[20][21][22][23][24][25][26][27]

Nursing, Allied Health, and Interprofessional Team Interventions

Newborns babies cannot verbalize their pain. An interprofessional team approach is required to provide effective pain relief to newborns and infants after circumcision. Along with analgesics, swaddling is considered to be an effective pain relief intervention.  

Review Questions


Raveenthiran V. The evolutionary saga of circumcision from a religious perspective. J Pediatr Surg. 2018 Jul;53(7):1440-1443. [PubMed: 29627177]
Zurynski Y, Sureshkumar P, Phu A, Elliott E. Female genital mutilation and cutting: a systematic literature review of health professionals' knowledge, attitudes and clinical practice. BMC Int Health Hum Rights. 2015 Dec 10;15:32. [PMC free article: PMC4676087] [PubMed: 26652275]
Varol N, Fraser IS, Ng CH, Jaldesa G, Hall J. Female genital mutilation/cutting--towards abandonment of a harmful cultural practice. Aust N Z J Obstet Gynaecol. 2014 Oct;54(5):400-5. [PubMed: 24801568]
Matar L, Zhu J, Chen RT, Gust DA. Medical risks and benefits of newborn male circumcision in the United States: physician perspectives. J Int Assoc Provid AIDS Care. 2015 Jan-Feb;14(1):33-9. [PubMed: 24899259]
Foddy B. Medical, religious and social reasons for and against an ancient rite. J Med Ethics. 2013 Jul;39(7):415. [PubMed: 23781076]
Earp BD, Allareddy V, Allareddy V, Rotta AT. Factors Associated With Early Deaths Following Neonatal Male Circumcision in the United States, 2001 to 2010. Clin Pediatr (Phila). 2018 Nov;57(13):1532-1540. [PubMed: 30066572]
Roth JD, Keenan AC, Carroll AE, Rink RC, Cain MP, Whittam BM, Bennett WE. Readmission characteristics of elective pediatric circumcisions using large-scale administrative data. J Pediatr Urol. 2016 Feb;12(1):27.e1-6. [PubMed: 26643790]
Paix BR, Peterson SE. Circumcision of neonates and children without appropriate anaesthesia is unacceptable practice. Anaesth Intensive Care. 2012 May;40(3):511-6. [PubMed: 22577918]
Al Qahtani R, Abu-Salem LY, Pal K. Effect of lidocaine-prilocaine eutectic mixture of local anaesthetic cream compared with oral sucrose or both in alleviating pain in neonatal circumcision procedure. Afr J Paediatr Surg. 2014 Jan-Mar;11(1):56-61. [PubMed: 24647296]
Fontaine P, Toffler WL. Dorsal penile nerve block for newborn circumcision. Am Fam Physician. 1991 Apr;43(4):1327-33. [PubMed: 2008820]
Abdulwahab-Ahmed A, Mungadi IA. Techniques of male circumcision. J Surg Tech Case Rep. 2013 Jan;5(1):1-7. [PMC free article: PMC3888996] [PubMed: 24470842]
Alyami F, Ferandez N, Koyle MA, Salle JP. Keloid formation after pediatric male genital surgeries: an uncommon and difficult problem to manage. J Pediatr Urol. 2019 Feb;15(1):48.e1-48.e8. [PubMed: 30206024]
Brook I. Infectious Complications of Circumcision and Their Prevention. Eur Urol Focus. 2016 Oct;2(4):453-459. [PubMed: 28723479]
Al Hussein Alawamlh O, Kim SJ, Li PS, Lee RK. Novel Devices for Adolescent and Adult Male Circumcision. Eur Urol Focus. 2018 Apr;4(3):329-332. [PubMed: 30007543]
American Academy of Pediatrics Task Force on Circumcision. Male circumcision. Pediatrics. 2012 Sep;130(3):e756-85. [PubMed: 22926175]
American Academy of Pediatrics Task Force on Circumcision. Circumcision policy statement. Pediatrics. 2012 Sep;130(3):585-6. [PubMed: 22926180]
Friedman B, Khoury J, Petersiel N, Yahalomi T, Paul M, Neuberger A. Pros and cons of circumcision: an evidence-based overview. Clin Microbiol Infect. 2016 Sep;22(9):768-774. [PubMed: 27497811]
Task Force on Circumcision. Cultural bias and circumcision: the AAP Task Force on circumcision responds. Pediatrics. 2013 Apr;131(4):801-4. [PubMed: 23509171]
Lannon CM, Bailey A, Fleischman A, Shoemaker C, Swanson J. Circumcision debate. Task Force on Circumcision, 1999-2000. Pediatrics. 2000 Mar;105(3 Pt 1):641-2. [PubMed: 10699124]
Morris BJ, Bailis SA, Wiswell TE. In reply--Bias and male circumcision. Mayo Clin Proc. 2014 Nov;89(11):1588-9. [PubMed: 25444491]
Morris BJ, Bailis SA, Wiswell TE. Circumcision rates in the United States: rising or falling? What effect might the new affirmative pediatric policy statement have? Mayo Clin Proc. 2014 May;89(5):677-86. [PubMed: 24702735]
Morris BJ, Tobian AA, Hankins CA, Klausner JD, Banerjee J, Bailis SA, Moses S, Wiswell TE. Veracity and rhetoric in paediatric medicine: a critique of Svoboda and Van Howe's response to the AAP policy on infant male circumcision. J Med Ethics. 2014 Jul;40(7):463-70. [PubMed: 23955288]
Di Pietro ML, Teleman AA, Di Pietro ML, Poscia A, González-Melado FJ, Panocchia N. Preventive Newborn Male Circumcision: What Is the Child's Best Interest? Cuad Bioet. 2017 Sep-Dec;28(94):303-316. [PubMed: 28963998]
Reis-Dennis S, Reis E. Are Physicians Blameworthy for Iatrogenic Harm Resulting from Unnecessary Genital Surgeries? AMA J Ethics. 2017 Aug 01;19(8):825-833. [PubMed: 28846522]
Svoboda JS. Nontherapeutic Circumcision of Minors as an Ethically Problematic Form of Iatrogenic Injury. AMA J Ethics. 2017 Aug 01;19(8):815-824. [PubMed: 28846521]
Svoboda JS, Adler PW, Van Howe RS. Circumcision Is Unethical and Unlawful. J Law Med Ethics. 2016 Jun;44(2):263-82. [PubMed: 27338602]
Merkel R, Putzke H. After Cologne: male circumcision and the law. Parental right, religious liberty or criminal assault? J Med Ethics. 2013 Jul;39(7):444-9. [PubMed: 23698890]
Morris BJ, Katelaris A, Blumenthal NJ, Hajoona M, Sheen AC, Schrieber L, Lumbers ER, Wodak AD, Katelaris P. Evidence-based circumcision policy for Australia. J Mens Health. 2022;18(6) [PMC free article: PMC9409339] [PubMed: 36034719]
Douglawi A, Masterson TA. Updates on the epidemiology and risk factors for penile cancer. Transl Androl Urol. 2017 Oct;6(5):785-790. [PMC free article: PMC5673812] [PubMed: 29184774]
Weiss HA, Larke N, Halperin D, Schenker I. Complications of circumcision in male neonates, infants and children: a systematic review. BMC Urol. 2010 Feb 16;10:2. [PMC free article: PMC2835667] [PubMed: 20158883]
Simpson M. Urologic Conditions in Infants and Children: Circumcision. FP Essent. 2020 Jan;488:11-15. [PubMed: 31894950]
Morris BJ, Krieger JN. Does male circumcision affect sexual function, sensitivity, or satisfaction?--a systematic review. J Sex Med. 2013 Nov;10(11):2644-57. [PubMed: 23937309]
Daling JR, Madeleine MM, Johnson LG, Schwartz SM, Shera KA, Wurscher MA, Carter JJ, Porter PL, Galloway DA, McDougall JK, Krieger JN. Penile cancer: importance of circumcision, human papillomavirus and smoking in in situ and invasive disease. Int J Cancer. 2005 Sep 10;116(4):606-16. [PubMed: 15825185]
Ornellas AA, Ornellas P. Should routine neonatal circumcision be a police to prevent penile cancer? | Opinion: Yes. Int Braz J Urol. 2017 Jan-Feb;43(1):7-9. [PMC free article: PMC5293376] [PubMed: 28124519]
LICKLIDER S. Jewish penile carcinoma. J Urol. 1961 Jul;86:98. [PubMed: 13761942]
Tsen HF, Morgenstern H, Mack T, Peters RK. Risk factors for penile cancer: results of a population-based case-control study in Los Angeles County (United States). Cancer Causes Control. 2001 Apr;12(3):267-77. [PubMed: 11405332]

Disclosure: Warees Warees declares no relevant financial relationships with ineligible companies.

Disclosure: Sachit Anand declares no relevant financial relationships with ineligible companies.

Disclosure: Alexander Rodriguez declares no relevant financial relationships with ineligible companies.

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