Black men with early hair loss may have a heightened risk of
developing prostate cancer, researchers report.
This study of more than 500 black men found that those
"who have baldness by age 30 are more likely to develop prostate
cancer," said researcher Charnita Zeigler-Johnson, a research assistant
professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Center for Clinical Epidemiology
and Biostatistics, in Philadelphia.
Researchers have looked at baldness as a potential risk
factor for prostate cancer for years, but studies to date have produced
The new research is believed to be the first to focus only
on blacks, Zeigler-Johnson said. Blacks in the United States get prostate
cancer more often than other men and are more than twice as likely to die of
What the research
For the study, published in the issue of Cancer
Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, the researchers evaluated 318
men with prostate cancer and compared them to 219 men without the cancer. All
were enrolled in the Study of Clinical Outcomes, Risk and Ethnicity between
1998 and 2010.
The men were asked about their hair loss, if any, at age 30.
Options included: none, frontal (at the forehead or temples) and vertex
(crown). They also supplied information on their medical history.
If the men reported baldness by 30, "their likelihood
of developing prostate cancer was increased by about 70%, compared to men with
no baldness at age 30," Zeigler-Johnson said.
While baldness of any type boosted risk, frontal baldness in
younger men was most significant. "If they had frontal baldness at 30, men
were 2.6 times more likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer before age 60,
compared to men at age 30 with no baldness," said Zeigler-Johnson.
For men diagnosed before age 60, frontal baldness was also
strongly linked with more advanced and more aggressive cancers, she found.
Overall, 20% of those with cancer had baldness by age 30,
but 13% of the group without cancer had baldness as well.
While the study found a link between early balding and
prostate cancer, it didn't prove a cause-and-effect relationship. It does
suggest a need for further study, however, experts noted.
This year, the American Cancer Society predicts about 238 000
new cases of prostate cancer will be diagnosed and that more than 29 000 men
will die of the cancer.
Besides race, known risk factors for prostate cancer include
older age and a family history of the disease.
Male hormones play a
Zeigler-Johnson isn't sure how to explain the association
between prostate cancer and baldness, but said male hormones might play a role.
"Perhaps it is related to androgens, in particular to dihydrotestosterone
[DHT], a metabolite of testosterone," she said.
"We know an increase in DHT increases prostate cancer
occurrence and progression," she said. "But it is also related to
thinning of the hair follicles." That thinning makes it difficult for hair
Dr Otis Brawley, chief medical officer of the American
Cancer Society, said the study provides "more evidence of a link that has
been talked about since the '70s."
The finding about balding in younger men is the newest
information, he said.
Another expert, Dr Lionel Banez, a research investigator at
Durham Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Durham, NC, said the new findings are
important "because this is the largest cohort of purely African-American
men published which examines the link between baldness and prostate
However, it is "quite premature" to use the
findings to make any clinical recommendations about screening for the cancer,
If other research confirms the link, Zeigler-Johnson said
doctors might decide to follow and screen balding men more closely for prostate
One screening test for prostate cancer is the PSA
(prostate-specific antigen) blood test, which measures normal and cancerous
cells in the prostate gland. When PSA levels are high, it sometimes indicates
"We still do not know if prostate cancer screening
saves lives," said Brawley. Currently, the American Cancer Society
recommends informing men of average risk, without symptoms, of the known
pitfalls (such as false "positive" results) and potential benefits
(early detection) of prostate cancer screening beginning at age 50. They then
can make a decision about screening.
To learn more about prostate cancer, visit the American Cancer Society.