Going Bald? You May Face a Higher Risk of Aggressive Prostate Cancer

Going Bald? You May Face a Higher Risk of Aggressive Prostate Cancer

Photo by Alexey Klementiev/iStock/Getty Images

If your head is starting to resemble a crystal ball, prostate cancer may be in your future. That’s because men with a specific pattern of hair loss at age 45 may be more likely to develop aggressive prostate cancer in their later years, according to a new study published Monday in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

For an average of three years, the researchers tracked prostate-cancer cases among 39,070 men over the age of 55 who had not been previously diagnosed with the disease. Over the course of the study, 1,138 men developed prostate cancer, and about half of those cases involved what were considered aggressive, or fast-growing, tumors. They also asked the men to indicate their level of hair loss at age 45 — and the responses uncovered quite an usual, interesting trend. 

Related: Why Men Are Going Bald Younger — and 8 Ways to Stop the Shedding

Guys who were balding in the front and, to a moderate degree, on the crown of their head at age 45 faced a 39 percent higher risk of developing aggressive prostate cancer over the course of the study, compared with men who’d had all of their hair intact at 45. About 10 percent of the study participants reported this particular pattern of hair loss, shown below. 

Past research has revealed a similar association. In a 2002 study from Australia, for example, men in their 60s with “vertex” balding — hair loss on the crown of their head — were nearly three times more likely to develop severe prostate cancer than their nonbalding peers. Those with balding in the front faced an 80 percent higher risk of a prostate-cancer diagnosis. 

The likely link between these conditions can be summed up with two words: male hormones. “Male hormones, or androgens, are associated with male pattern baldness, as well as prostate organ development and maturation and prostate cancer progression,” lead study author Michael Cook told Yahoo Health. Two male hormones in particular — testosterone and its metabolite, dihydrotestosterone (DHT) — are thought to play a potentially significant role in both balding and prostate-tumor growth, he said.

In several past studies, researchers have tried to assess the testosterone-cancer connection by taking a single blood sample at one time point, which posed a problem. “We don’t know whether that blood sample is representative of lifetime exposure to these male hormones,” Cook said.

That’s why he decided to study male pattern baldness, which may act “as a measure of cumulative exposure to androgens, because male pattern baldness is known to be associated with higher levels of male hormones,” he said. One can just look at the medication designed to target male hair loss as proof: Finasteride, found in Propecia, works by reducing the conversion of testosterone to more potent DHT, explained Cook.

Related: The Medical Tests Every Man Needs

So should men going bald in the front and on top hightail it to their doctor? Not necessarily. Although male pattern baldness may eventually be considered a risk factor for prostate cancer — or even a diagnostic aid — the science isn’t solid enough yet to draw any firm conclusions.

“We need to replicate these results in a strong study, maybe with multiple time points for male pattern baldness and at multiple ages,” Cook noted. “If this association is replicated by high-quality studies — and if we understand the mechanism that underlies this — then in the future, it’s possible that male pattern baldness may contribute a small amount of information in predicting prostate cancer risk.” It may also eventually serve as a visual cue to prompt doctors to talk to male patients about prostate-cancer screening, he added.

For now, all men — whether they’re balding or have a full head of hair — should focus on the basic healthy habits that reduce the risk of diseases like prostate cancer: eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, and avoiding or reducing tobacco and alcohol intake. “At the moment,” assured Cook, “men with any degree of male pattern baldness, at any age, do not need to be additionally concerned about their individual risk of prostate cancer.”

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