Is there a link between hair loss and cancer?
When hair loss is mentioned in terms of cancer we are likely to jump to the conclusion that it is a reference to the side-effects which are often passed on when cancer patients are receiving chemotherapy. But the result of a study which has been published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology this week suggests that there may in fact be a link between hair loss and the actual illness itself.
The study seems to show that those men with Male Pattern Baldness are more likely to suffer from prostate cancer. It does not show that MPL leads to cancer – more that if you suffer from one then you are more likely to also suffer with the other. This is because both of these illnesses have their origins in the production of testosterone.
With Male Pattern Baldness it is not so much the level of testosterone but more instead due to the skin’s ability to process the hormone. Some men are able to process it better than others. Drugs like Propecia which is used to reduce hair loss blocks the production of testosterone.
How the study took place
The first phase of the study took place between 1993 and 2001 when 40,000 US men aged between 55 and 74 were asked questions about how they remembered losing their hair, and whether they had Male Pattern baldness at the age of 45. Then in the second phase (between 2006 and 2008) the investigators recorded how many men were suffering from prostate cancer. It was found 1,100 men were suffering from this form of cancer. 600 of the men were suffering from an aggressive form of prostate cancer.
To put the results in perspective, it was found that those men with Male Pattern Baldness were 39% more likely to suffer from aggressive prostate cancer. However, they were not likely to have other forms of prostate cancer.
Limitations of the study
The results from the study do seem to be very persuasive but there have been critics who have been quick to highlight the limitations of the study. The first major concern was that it depended too much on the men’s own memories as to whether they had Male Pattern Baldness at age 45. Also 89% of the men were white so there is still a grey area around how non-whites maybe affected.
Investigators who facilitated the study have said that in the future Male Pattern Baldness may be a signal to doctors that there would be a need to monitor men in middle age for the onset of prostate cancer.
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