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Balding in 20s could hint at prostate cancer later in life
February 15th, 2011
08:05 PM ET

Balding in 20s could hint at prostate cancer later in life

Men who start losing their hair at 20 may be twice as likely to get prostate cancer later in life, a new study suggests.
If men started going bald in their 30s or 40s, the risk did not go up, according to this research.

"'Any type of balding [at age 20] is a risk factor for prostate cancer," suggests Dr. Michael Yassa, lead author of the study and a radiation oncologist at Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital in Montreal, Canada. He says an earlier study suggested that back of the head balding was worse, but this study found any type of balding is a risk factor for prostate cancer.

Male pattern baldness, also known as androgenic alopecia, affects about 50% of men and a link between testosterone and baldness has been established. Likewise, stopping testosterone production is one way prostate cancer is treated. But an actual link between the baldness and prostate cancer has not been established – and this new study published in the cancer journal Annals of Oncology can't do it either.

Yassa says rather than starting with men who were 20 and follow them for 50 years, he and his colleagues studied 388 men with prostate cancer and 281 healthy men and asked how bald they were at age 20,30 and 40. When a man's hair began to thin in his 30s or 40s, the risk for prostate cancer did not go up according to the research.

The study authors emphasize that they only observed an association between losing hair and getting prostate cancer. They did not test the men's testosterone levels, so they did cannot prove higher hormone levels played a role. But they believe their research suggests male pattern baldness at an early age could be a marker for being at increased risk for developing this type of cancer.

Yassa says his own research isn't changing what he does in his practice. He says if a man who didn't start balding at the age of 20 comes into his office and asks if he should be screened for prostate cancer he would tell him, "There's a debate for screening and there are sometimes false positives."
If a man who did start losing his hair at 20 came to see him, he would give him the same information but add "the [screening] debate is for the normal population and you may be at higher risk because you were bald at the age of twenty."

"We encourage further work on the subject," the authors say.



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soundoff (41 Responses)
  1. Suzanne Smith

    Baldness is caused by an enzyme produced by the liver called 5-alphareductase that converts testosterone into dihydrotestosterone (DHT). Baldness affects men earlier than women because they have more testosterone and so they have more potential to have high levels of DHT. DHT, can be thought of as a super form of testosterone. Over time DHT over stimulates certain tissues, hair and the prostate, for example and causes these tissues to get used-up early and leading to prostate cancer and scalp hair loss. 5-alphareductase also combines with progesterone to form dihydroprogesterone (DHP). It is possible but not proven that DHP causes breast cancer by the same mechanism as DHT causes prostate cancer.

    February 15, 2011 at 20:48 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Interested...

      Suzanne-
      What an incredible description. The CNN journalist should have consulted with you in order to articulate clearly the connection between baldness and prostate cancer. Well done!

      February 15, 2011 at 22:00 | Report abuse |
    • rob

      I think you're simplifying it a bit by saying the "tissues get used up early" leading to scalp hair loss and prostate cancer. The link between testosterone, DHT and prostate cancer is still being studied obviously. Higher levels of testosterone have been linked both with hair loss and prostate cancer (IIRC) but just testosterone gets metabolized to DHT doesn't mean it is the DHT that is causing the damage. In fact, at least for the prostate, it would make much more sense that testosterone has the bigger effect (which I also believe research has shown) while it is DHT on the scalp. DHT causes the hair shaft to create hairs that are thinner/shorter until the hair within the shaft can no longer be seen (ie bald spot.) This has been proven by research as well as the efficacy of topical anti-androgens like ketoconazole and minoxidil.

      February 15, 2011 at 22:26 | Report abuse |
    • Dirk

      Oh cool. I'm in the clear.. Yay me.

      February 15, 2011 at 22:47 | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      Saying DHT is the only reason for balding is oversimplifying the issue. DHT has not been conclusively linked to balding, as some men who do NOT have high levels of DHT still experience balding. It is a potential cause, but certain types of estrogen have been shown to potentially be a cause for balding. Further study is required before a definitive answer can be given.

      February 16, 2011 at 00:32 | Report abuse |
    • Joe in Colorado

      And women who copulate with these guys have higher incident of ovarian and uterine cancers.

      February 16, 2011 at 11:56 | Report abuse |
  2. alex

    dang, sucks for my 20 year old friend who is already balding!

    February 15, 2011 at 20:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. rob

    this could lend credence to the idea that a 5-alpha reductase inhibitor such as finasteride(trade name Propecia) or dutasteride(trade name Avodart) could reduce this risk somewhat. With the really inert nature of finasteride with few side effects (it is also only an inhibitor of 1 subtype of the enzyme as compared to Dutasteride which inhibits both subtypes but carries more side effect risk), it seems that this should be recommended to men who are going bald at an early age for more than just cosmetic reasons.

    February 15, 2011 at 20:55 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Herb

      Propecia rules – Save your hair and at the same time stop the DHT from abusing your prostate!!!! Read up! Its TRUE!

      February 15, 2011 at 21:08 | Report abuse |
  4. Zac

    Thanks Suzanne and Rob for the thoughtful biochemical input!

    February 15, 2011 at 21:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. guy13

    Read the complete opposite here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/8569826.stm

    February 15, 2011 at 21:47 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Interested...

      The Brits (in medicine) are NOTORIOUS for being dubious of any medical connections. Read Suzanne Smith's comment above. Makes sense to me... and like the authors of this study mentioned, more studies are needed.

      February 15, 2011 at 22:15 | Report abuse |
    • hmmm....

      And Americans are NOTORIOUS for being dubious in reading comprehension...the link he gave was to a US study...

      February 15, 2011 at 23:37 | Report abuse |
  6. Bob

    Do they have diseases for being too stupid?

    February 15, 2011 at 22:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Ray

    For what it's worth, I'm 32 and aside from several other symptoms that ended in many trips to a doctor, lots of blood work and a rheumatologist to finally diagnose me correctly with hypothyroidism, I too was losing or had a visibly noticeable thinning of my hair on the front and top of my scalp. Hair loss is one of the symptoms of hypothyroidism and with the proper dosage of thyroid hormone, all of my symptoms have subsided and my hair has returned almost to what it was before I started noticing it thinning. Point being, your hair-loss may or MAY NOT be a sign of prostrate problems. Either way, check with your doctor but don't go running out thinking you have cancer either.

    February 15, 2011 at 22:54 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Ryan

      I actually am 20 and have moderate thinning on the back of my scalp and have been since the later half of high school. It's only been recently that it's been thinning out on the rest of my head, but do you think most cases can be solved by thyroid hormones? I actually heard from a from a friend the other day that they heard about a break through with the thyroid hormone and hair loss so it was kinda a relief seeing your post. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

      February 16, 2011 at 00:15 | Report abuse |
    • rob

      ryan-you should go to your primary care physician and they will be able to see with simple bloodwork if it is a thyroid problem, a vitamin intake problem or otherwise. Unfortunately, with your description of typical male pattern baldness it is likely not a thyroid problem, especially if you aren't experiencing any symptoms. The vast majority of men in their 20's and 30's who have thinning/hair loss problems are dealing with typical and very common androgenic alopeica, and that is why you just want to rule out any other possibilities. Luckily for you since it hasn't been so long, a drug regimen consisting of rogaine, propecia and a shampoo called nizoral has been shown to potentially have a synergistic effect on reversing hair loss and even in re-growing hair. It takes persistence though and for the results of these medications to continue you would need to continue the medications. Either way my advice is see your PCP and have them do routine bloodwork to see if there is any other explanation for the hair loss.

      February 16, 2011 at 00:24 | Report abuse |
    • Ryan

      Primary care physician, got it. Thanks, rob.

      February 16, 2011 at 02:51 | Report abuse |
  8. ken

    My youngest step-brothers were both balding in their 20's. Their Father had Prostate cancer in his seventies, they already have had the cancer. At 60 I am balding but have no issues and a low PSA. This could be a BIG clue.

    February 15, 2011 at 23:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. austinbigg

    Nowadays everything is a risk for cancer like one guy said going to school causes cancer im not trying to offend people with cancer i hope everyone who has cancer beats this dieses it is just i hear it alll the time that pretty much everything causes cancer

    February 16, 2011 at 00:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Phil

    My uncle had a full head of hair in his 70s but got prostate cancer anyway.

    February 16, 2011 at 01:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Neal

    Balding, grey hair, acne, heart disease, arthritis, too heavy, too thin, hormone problems, thyroid problems, adrenal problems, cancer and all the rest are caused by the junk we are putting in our bodies. Unnatural foods, processed foods, drugs, alcohol, x-rays, fluoride, smokes, immunizations and the like. And it can all be repaired with the consumption or real foods, unprocessed foods and real fats like coconut oil, grass fed butters and grass fed meats. Plenty of real free range eggs and lower carbohydrates start our body on the healing path. Reduce and then avoid chips, bread, bagels, cookies, cake, pasta dn all other processed foods. They are killing us. http://www.wapf.org will get you started. Good luck and remember or look up "bread and circuses"

    February 16, 2011 at 01:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. SWLK

    Drink black tea to help suppress DHT level. A clinical research found black tea to help lower DHT level, and thus stopping hair loss. Black tea is more effective than Propecia with 74% effective rate vs 71% Propecia.

    February 16, 2011 at 01:37 | Report abuse | Reply
    • gfgf

      haha right

      February 16, 2011 at 09:04 | Report abuse |
    • ApeHanger

      Men who come more frequently are less likely to experience prostate and urinary problems later in life. I am currently engaged in...er...single-handed research into this matter. I'll advise all of you the results in a few decades.

      February 16, 2011 at 11:25 | Report abuse |
  13. Moo

    A real good way to promote inflammation of the prostate, and or prostate cancer is to drink lots of milk. Milk contains high levels of Bovine growth hormone. The result is increased levels of DHT, this and elevated levels of antibiotics. Lactate is very hard for the human body to break down. There is a protein produced by ingesting Milk, this protein coagulates causing a thick sticky substance. This rejection of Milk is how Elmer's glue is made. Industrial farm manufactured milk is toxic to humans.

    February 16, 2011 at 01:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. T

    Man, it really, really sucks for balding guys. Even more worse news. The least science could do is help grow hair back, jeez.

    February 16, 2011 at 02:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Kris Wood

    I read something on the internet and so it must be a solid fact! Seems a bit random chance, to me.

    February 16, 2011 at 04:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. jim

    A receding hairline can be a good thing, according to US scientists, who say men who go bald by 30 appear to be less likely to develop prostate cancer. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/8569826.stm

    February 16, 2011 at 04:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. ace

    My husband was balding out of high school. His 2 grandfathers and his father suffered prostate cancer. Thank goodness for better treatment/screening. His dad was caught early and had a fairly non-evasive treatment and a very positive outcome. I think they are dead on about this. They have plans for early screening...they did based on family history not this finding. Anything to help stop/prevent UGLY CANCER. I pray for the cures.

    February 16, 2011 at 08:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. jaydee

    because bald guys go on less dates and spend more time crushing wings and beer..

    February 16, 2011 at 09:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Renee

    Men, please do not use early hair loss, or the absence of it, as an indicator. My Dad, age 62, still has a very full head of hair, and was diagnosed with an agressive form of prostate cancer last year. Instead, famililarize yourself with the urinary signs and symptoms, and begin PSA and digital exams at 45, or 40 if you have paternal family history of prostate cancer.

    February 16, 2011 at 10:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Lou

    http://www.vitamindcouncil.org/cancerProstate.shtml

    February 16, 2011 at 11:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. ApeHanger

    Dang! And here I always felt that baldness was the sign of a great thinker or a great lover. How disappointing to find out that all it will do is cause one's weenie to fall off.

    February 16, 2011 at 11:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Tony

    My hair started falling out when I was 16 – I guess I should purchase some additional insurance?

    February 16, 2011 at 11:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. meemee

    I have a funny little note that someone may wish to articulate upon. When I was 20, I was heading overseas (as a private citizen) and I had s smallpox vaccination. I became a bit ill from it for a few days. Later on, I noticed that my scalp was sore. By the time I was 21, I thought that I was losing a bit of hair. After a few more years I was sure, but I didn't really begin to lose hair until I was about 33. My mother's side of the family does have the trait. But here's the issue, I always felt that the vaccination triggered the male pattern baldness early. Then, in around 1988 or so, I read a short piece in a medical journal that claimed a link had been found between that vaccination and the onset of MPB. I have never seen or heard that again, but at the time it was an "ah ha!" moment. Any comments?

    February 16, 2011 at 15:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Patrick

    So, this test was done by asking men with prostate cancer when they started balding... admits it did not bother to check hormone levels, nor any other lifestyle questions... and than actually hinted at a link because of a correlation based on a sample size of less than 800 men!?!?!?

    This "study" is so un-scientific it is hilarious. Since this gets to go up on CNN, I will submit my own:

    CNN, please publish my findings: Studies show cars with many empty bottles of alcohol inside of them frequently are found to have crashed.... I believe it is possible that empty bottles of alcohol are causing the weight ratio in cars to shift, making them pull into objects on the road or off the road.

    Sure, this is just a correlation, but provide hints throughout that this is in fact causation. Thank you!

    February 16, 2011 at 15:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Vuthy

    I'm in mid 20s, and getting bald. What should i do.?

    February 18, 2011 at 09:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. International Society of Hair Restoration Surgery

    This study raises the question: is baldness a risk factor for prostate cancer; but does not answer the question, as prostate cancer has multiple risk factors. Finasteride may have the potential to prevent prostate cancer, but this issue remains controversial and unresolved. Age guidelines for obtaining prostate cancer screening using PSA are well established but screening itself is controversial.

    February 21, 2011 at 11:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. danno

    Propecia causes degeneration of penile tissues:

    banpropecia blogspot com

    Asian J Androl. 2003 Mar;5(1):33-6. Effect of androgen deprivation on penile ultrastructure. Shen ZJ, Zhou XL, Lu YL, Chen ZD.

    March 7, 2011 at 16:16 | Report abuse | Reply
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    August 5, 2012 at 10:47 | Report abuse | Reply

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