The Link Between Early Baldness and Prostate Cancer

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Men who lose their hair may have more to worry about than just vanity, especially if their balding starts early.

Researchers have long known about the potential link between baldness and the risk of prostate cancer, but studies have been conflicting. Now a study of African-American men shows a higher risk of prostate cancer among men losing their hair, supporting the results of a previous study that found similar results in a group of primarily Caucasian men. In the current study, published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, researchers focused specifically on African-American men, since they have the highest rate of prostate cancer among men in the U.S. and are twice as likely to die of the disease than these men.

The participants included 318 men with prostate cancer and 219 similarly aged controls who were enrolled in the Study of Clinical Outcomes, Risk and Ethnicity (SCORE) between 1998 and 2010. They were asked about any diagnosis of prostate cancer as well as the specific type of hair loss at age 30: none, frontal baldness or vertex baldness.

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Overall, men with any type of baldness had a 69% greater risk of prostate cancer, and young men with frontal hair loss were six times as likely as those without such baldness to be diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer by age 60. The pattern of baldness seemed to make a difference, with frontal hair loss associated with a higher risk of cancer than vertex baldness. That’s in contrast to previous studies, which found no difference in risk depending on the pattern of baldness.

Although the study involved a small number of participants, the researchers say the findings point to a potentially important new way of identifying men who might be at highest risk of developing prostate cancer. Why balding patterns are connected to prostate cancer isn’t known, but the researchers believe changes in hormone levels may be behind both; one of the breakdown products of the male hormone testosterone, for example, dihydrotestosterone (DHT) is linked to a higher risk of prostate cancer (and faster-growing tumors) as well as thinning of hair follicles.

(MORE: Men Should Forgo PSA Testing, U.S. Panel Advises)

The fact that the results were so dramatic among African-American men also suggests that there may be a race-related genetic explanation too. “Pending future studies to confirm our results, there is a potential to use early-onset baldness as a clinical indicator of increased risk for prostate cancer in some populations of men,” said Charnita Zeigler-Johnson, a research assistant professor at the Center for Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia in a statement. Given that African-American men are at higher risk of developing the cancer, that’s welcome news that could help to identify more patients so they can receive treatment to save their lives.