The drug finasteride -- used to treat baldness -- blocks the conversion of testosterone to an androgen thought to cause hair loss, and the drug has also been demonstrated to lower the incidence of prostate cancer.
To explore the possible connection between balding patterns and prostate cancer, the research team spent more than two years analyzing disease progression and hair loss patterns in 388 men with prostate cancer.
The men were diagnosed between the ages of 46 and 84. Starting in 2004, the investigators asked them to indicate whether or not they had experienced any previous balding, when their hair loss began, and specifically what type of hair loss had occurred at 20, 30 and 40.
Another 281 healthy men were enlisted in the study for comparison.
The research team found that 37 of the prostate cancer patients (and 14 of the healthy men) had experienced some form of hair loss at the age of 20, ranging from a receding hairline to a bald patch at the top of the head, or a combination of both.
Any form of hair loss at age 20 was linked to a doubling of prostate cancer risk, the study authors reported, with no specific pattern of hair loss being more predictive of risk than any other.
The research team cautioned, however, that it is premature to conclude that baldness and prostate cancer are, in fact, linked.
For his part, Dr. Nelson Neal Stone, a clinical professor of urology and radiation oncology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, agreed that while "the study is food for thought," it is in no way conclusive.
"First of all, the number of patients involved is very low, which makes interpretation and application to the general population very risky," he said.
"But we do know that there are genetic factors that make pros
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