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Abraham L. Wolbarst

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Abraham Leo Wolbarst

Abraham Leo Wolbarst, M.D. was solely responsible for the invention of the myth that circumcision rendered males immune to penile cancer.[1] Worldbarst wrote an article that was published in the Lancet in 1932, implicating human male smegma as carcinogenic.[2] Worlbarst's myth was based entirely on unverifiable anecdotes, ethnocentric stereotypes, a faulty understanding of human anatomy and physiology, a misunderstanding of the distinction between association and cause, and an unbridled missionary zeal, and it had absolutely no basis in valid scientific and epidemiological research.[3]

Wolbarst was directly responsible for its proliferation, and all subsequent repetions of this myth are directly traceable to Wolbarst's article, though Wolbarst himself advocated universal neonatal circumcision principally as a preventive for epilepsy, paralysis, and masturbation. Circumcision advocates such as Wolbarst do not seem to have promoted this myth because they have a genuine interest in reducing penile cancer; they used it instead as a scare tactic in the promotion of neonatal circumcision.[4]

Epidemiological studies disproved Wolbarst's myth long ago. In North America the rate of penile cancer has been estimated to be 1 in 100,000[5]. Maden et al reported penile cancer among a fifth of elderly patients from rural areas who had been circumcised neonatally and had been born at a time when the rate of neonatal circumcision was about 20% in rural populations.[6] Their study also shows that the rate of penile cancer among men circumcised neonatally has risen in the United States relative to the rise in the rate of neonatal circumcision.


  1. Wolbarst, AL. Circumcision and penile cancer. Lancet 1932; 150-3.
  2. Wolbarst A. Circumcision and Penile Cancer. The Lancet, vol. 1 no. 5655 (January 16, 1932): pp. 150-153.
  3. Fleiss PM, Hodges F. Neonatal circumcision does not protect against cancer. BMJ 1996;312(7033):779-80.
  4. Fleiss PM, Hodges F. Neonatal circumcision does not protect against cancer. BMJ 1996;312(7033):779-80.
  5. Cutler SJ, Young JL Jr. Third national cancer survey: incidence data. Bethesda, Md. US Dept of Health, Education, and Welfare, Public Health Service, 1975
  6. Maden C, Sherman KJ, Beckman AM, Hislop TG, Teh CZ, Ashley RL, et al. History of circumcision, medical conditions, and sexual activity and risk of penile cancer. JNCI 1993;85:19-24
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