published Thursday, February 17th, 2011

Balding in 20s may double risk of prostate cancer

McClatchy Newspapers

LOS ANGELES—Men who go bald in their early 20s have a doubled risk of developing prostate cancer, but those who lose hair in their 30s and 40s apparently are not at greater risk, French researchers reported this week. The findings suggest that men who lose their hair very early in life might benefit from increased screening.

Because the same male hormones that are involved in hair growth also play a role in prostate cancer, researchers have been tantalized by possible links between balding and prostate cancer. But past studies have yielded conflicting results or none at all.

Dr. Philippe Giraud, a professor of radiation oncology at Paris Descartes University, and Dr. Michael Yassa, a radiation oncologist who is now at the University of Montreal, studied 388 men being treated for prostate cancer and 281 healthy men, questioning them about their history of hair loss.

They reported in the Annals of Oncology that 37 of the men with prostate cancer had some balding at the age of 20, but only 14 of the healthy men had had balding at that age.

But there was no association with the type or pattern of hair loss, they reported, and no association with balding at older ages.

Androgenic alopecia, sometimes known as male pattern baldness, is common in men, affecting about half of them throughout the course of their lives. It is related to androgenic hormones, and androgens also play a role in the onset and growth of prostate tumors. The widely used drug finasteride blocks the conversion of the male hormone testosterone to an androgen called dihydrotestosterone, which is thought to play a role in hair loss, and the drug, known as Propecia, is used to treat hair loss. It also has been shown to decrease the incidence of prostate cancer and is sold as Proscar for that purpose.

PSA screening for prostate cancer is generally not begun until men are in their 40s and 50s, but Giraud and Yassa suggested that it might be useful to start it somewhat earlier for men who go bald in their 20s because of their increased risk. Experts cautioned, however, that the number of people involved in the study was small, so the results should be interpreted with care.

Other risk factors for prostate cancer include age, family history of the disease, diet, lifestyle and ethnicity.

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