Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Premature balding may be a precursor to prostate cancer

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Men who start balding by age 20 are at a higher risk for developing prostate cancer, according to a study by French researchers that was published in February.

The study, published in the academic journal Annals of Oncology, links premature hair loss and prostate cancer, but does not draw any concrete conclusions. The study was lead by Michael Yassa, a radiation oncologist and study researcher. Yassa wrote in the report, “identified male pattern baldness arising at an early age, an easily identifiable and early-occurring trait, as a risk factor for developing prostate cancer.”

The study consisted of 669 men, 388 of which had been diagnosed with prostate cancer prior to participating in the study and were being treated for it. The other 281 involved in the study did not have the disease. Both groups were asked to reflect on the extent of their hair loss at ages 20, 30 and 40; no hair loss, a receding hairline, hair loss on the crown of the head, or a combination of stages two and three.

Men who reported some degree of hair loss at age 20 were twice as likely to have prostate cancer than those who reported no hair loss at 20-years-old.

However, any conclusions that could be drawn from the study are tentative. According to the report, premature balding is more an indicator that prostate cancer may develop in later life rather than a telltale sign. “Androgenic alopecia [hair loss] is a common disorder usually seen in older men, but it may arise precociously. Its link to prostate cancer is unclear and there is much disparity in the literature.”

Biologically, hair loss and prostate cancer are both linked to androgens, which are hormones that affect the development of male characteristics. “A link between male pattern baldness and androgens has previously been documented…Androgens also play a role in the development and growth of prostate cancer,” the report states.

Finasteride is a medication that interacts with androgens and has been shown to treat both hair loss and prostate cancer. The report discusses this commonality as more validation of the link between premature hair loss and prostate cancer. Finasteride is a medication that slows hair loss and “has been shown to decrease the incidence of prostate cancer”, according to the report.

In the U.S. the generic drug, Finasteride is marketed as Propecia to treat male pattern baldness and as Proscar to treat BPH (enlarged prostate). Studies have proven Finasteride’s effectiveness in treating hair loss. Also, in 2003, a large study by the Prostate Cancer Prevention Trial has shown the drug’s ability to treat prostate cancer, albeit with sexual side-effects in some patients.

In spite of the commonalities of premature hair loss and prostate cancer, the jury is still out on how deep their relationship goes. Professor of oncology radiotherapy at the Université Paris Descartes, and one of the authors of the study, does not think the study’s sample size was adequate.

Furthermore, according to the Area Director of Communications for the American Cancer Society, Kathleen Kelly, “this particular study does not tell us anything actionable about the disease.” Giraud agrees and believes that the link between untimely hair loss and the development of prostate cancer is “too premature” to have any real significance.

The American Cancer Society’s “Prostate Cancer: Early Detection” guide (revised December 2010) does not mention premature hair loss or male pattern baldness. “Baldness is common amongst men and prostate cancer is a fairly common form of cancer,” states Kelly.

Research about the relationship between premature hair loss and prostate cancer is relatively recent; the first studies date back about a decade, according to Giraud, although there were a few papers written earlier.

Giraud does not believe that the study’s results will have any effect on preventing deaths from prostate cancer. All he will claim at the moment is that “male pattern baldness arising at an early age may be another easily identifiable risk factor for developing prostate cancer.” The group does have plans for further studies.

Michael Roberts can be reached at [email protected].

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