Baldness And The Risk Of Prostate Cancer

Monday, 7 June 2010

Throughout time, whenever people start talking about baldness, they almost always focus on the threat to self-esteem. Most cultures have decided that men who lose their hair early are somehow worthy of mockery. Inevitably, this has put pressure on men to avoid or hide the problem. In reality, the poor quality of many wigs and toupées signalled the wearer’s embarrassment and aggravated the social difficulties. In turn, this opened up a market to the unscrupulous to sell magic remedies. We still celebrate this time in our history by retaining the idea of “snake oil” and “elixirs” from the Traveling Medicine Shows. But the results in a recent study published in Cancer Epidemiology may be a sign that men who lose their hair early are the lucky ones. Instead of despair as their hair recedes, they should be celebrating the news their risk of prostate cancer is halving.

The study involved some two thousand men in their forties, half of whom had been diagnosed with prostate cancer. In reviewing their medical histories, the researchers noted that men whose hair began thinning in their twenties were the least likely to develop a growth in the prostate (whether cancerous or benign). In publishing these results, a clear distinction must be made between the natural thinning and loss of hair that affects all men as they age, and male pattern baldness which characteristically affects younger men. The reduction in the risk of cancer benefits those who lose their hair prematurely. The researchers speculate this is a consequence of the changing level of testosterone in those who go bald. The higher the level of hormone, the more the body produces dihydrotestosterone (DHT). With more DHT in the bloodstream, the hair follicles shrink. This thins the hair and slows the rate at which hair is replaced as it is shed. But, higher levels of testosterone seem to lower the risk of a growth.

There are two points of interest in this story. The first is the presence of contrary research evidence showing a higher risk of cancer among the prematurely bald. Unfortunately, male pattern baldness and prostate cancer have the same triggering cause and both develop as men age. There needs to be further research to distinguish the cause and effect of both conditions. Put simply, asking men to remember when they began losing their hair is not very reliable scientific evidence. Secondly, propecia, the drug now shown as effective in treating male pattern baldness because it prevents the conversion of testosterone to DHT, was originally developed as a treatment for benign growths in the prostate. It is somewhat ironic to see modern research treading the same path that led to the FDA expanding the use of propecia from prostate growths to a treatment for male pattern baldness. So where does this leave us? As it stands, this latest research is on its own and contradicted by earlier work. It has a doubtful scientific method and a relatively small number of participants. Before we can celebrate early balding, we need a better designed research program with a significantly larger number of men involved. Only if these new findings are confirmed can men with male pattern baldness feel better about their hair loss. Until then, all they have to rely on is the ever reliable propecia — so long as you start early enough, it slows hair loss and can prompt some regrowth.

By: desmond jeremiah

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