Men's Health : Baldness Linked to Prostate Cancer

Stacey Burling

As if it weren't bad enough to lose your hair, a University of Pennsylvania researcher has added a medical reason to worry about what seems to be a cosmetic problem.

She found a connection between baldness and prostate cancer in African American men.

Other studies have examined whether bald men -- mostly white bald men -- are at higher risk. Some studies suggested a relationship, but the results are not clear-cut.

Charnita Zeigler-Johnson, a Penn epidemiologist, decided to focus on African American men because they have a 50 to 60 percent higher risk of being diagnosed with cancer than white men and are twice as likely to die of it.

The study compared 318 African American men with prostate cancer to 219 healthy African American controls. It looked at whether they had early-onset balding -- before age 30 --and whether they had receding hairlines or thinning at the crown of the head.

It was published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research.

The Penn team found that balding men were 69 percent more likely to have prostate cancer. Men with frontal baldness alone -- not the more typical male-pattern baldness in the front and at the crown -- were more than twice as likely to have been diagnosed with advanced cancer. The relationships with frontal baldness was even stronger for men who were diagnosed before the age of 60 and had high-stage or high-grade cancers.

As for how baldness and prostate cancer are connected, she said that is mysterious as well. One possibility is that a metabolite of testosterone contributes to both prostate cancer and hair thinning.

In general, she said, baldness is less common in African Americans than Caucasians. By age 30, 26 percent of white men have lost some hair, compared to 16 percent of African Americans. However, African American men are more likely to lose hair only in front.

Ziegler-Johnson said it's too early to know whether a balding African American man should undergo extra screening.

"We need to confirm it in another study," she said. "This is the first one."

Contact staff writer Stacey Burling at 215-854-4944 or sburling@phillynews.com.

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