The growing dangers of fake news are becoming clearer by the day.
In South Africa, a fake news story claiming that male circumcision puts men at risk of cancer of the penis has surfaced online. It is published by a site called iMzansi and has been shared nearly 12,000 times on Facebook.
The article claims that the South African government has published a warning that “UK scientists have discovered a new type of cancer called forpenal cancer”.
When asked for an explanation, South Africa’s minister of health, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, supposedly told a local radio station that “as faeces are passed some remain inside and some are even trapped by the hair around the anus, in that case all those who are circumsided [sic] are in danger as the carcinogen eventually reach the penis, we have received reports of forpenal cancer around South Africa and the statistics are very disturbing.”
The minister then supposedly “urged fellow citizens to share the warning… in order to save lives”.
Medical male circumcision reduces cancer risk
The South African department of health has moved swiftly to dismiss the article as a “hoax” that “must be ignored”.
In a statement, the department said: “These claims are completely false. They are dangerous and criminal as they have the potential to deny the public a highly effective, scientifically proven HIV risk reduction intervention.”
Besides, one of the largest medical sciences’ research databases in the US shows no results for the supposed newly discovered cancer. The only place where “forpenal” cancer does pop up is on similar websites carrying a similar report in South Africa, Malawi and Cameroon.
A recent review of all research into circumcision and penile cancer shows that male circumcision reduces the risk of men contracting the human papillomavirus (HPV), which can lead to cancer of the penis. Through this, their female partners’ risk of cervical cancer also decreases, because HPV is the main cause of cervical cancer among women.
Conclusion: The claim is completely fake
The link claimed between cancer of the penis and male circumcision does not exist. In fact, all available research shows the exact opposite effect.
Voluntary male circumcision reduces the risk of men contracting the cancer-causing human papilloma virus, which can cause cancer of the penis. As a result, they are also less likely to pass it on to women who, in turn, are less likely to get cervical cancer.
Because circumcision has been shown to reduce the risk of female-to-male HIV transmission by 60%, it is an important tool in fighting HIV infection in a country with some of the highest rates in the world.
These stories and sites are harmful to people trying to make informed decisions about their health.