Early baldness linked to prostate cancer in black men

A balding black man

A balding black man. © Yuri Arcurs - Fotolia.com

Young, balding African-American men are at higher risk for developing prostate cancer at an earlier age, says a new study out today.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania looked at 537 African-American men and found that men under the age of 60 with frontal baldness were not only diagnosed more frequently with prostate cancer, but more aggressive disease. For men diagnosed over the age of 60, there was no connection.

Previous findings are mixed. Some have shown similar results, while others showed no connection at all between baldness and prostate cancer. But, this is the first study to look exclusively at African-American men — the men affected by prostate cancer the most.

The study did not identify the exact link, but some experts suggest it may be related to the hormone testosterone.

“A form of testosterone, DHT, is not only responsible for growth of the prostate gland, but also contributes to shrinkage of hair follicles which affects hair thinning,” says Charnita Zeigler-Johnson, PhD, research assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania and lead author of the study.

Dr. Dudley Danoff, urologist and president of Cedars-Sinai Tower Urology Medical Group in Los Angeles, has not noticed this connection in his own practice, but says, nonetheless, the study is well-researched.

“The mechanism of this relationship is at present unknown, but it is worthy of further study,” he says.

Danoff adds that since both frontal baldness and prostate cancer both run in families, they appear to be genetic. However, whether they’re affected by the same gene is to be determined.

“If this link can be identified by further study, we will be closer to solving the mystery of both,” he says.

Yet Danoff is not ready to change his practice just yet. Since baldness is much more common than prostate cancer, using that trait would mean screening men for prostate cancer who are otherwise not at high risk.

“I would still rely more on a positive family history, PSA test, digital rectal exam, and transrectal ultrasound,” Danoff says, in order to screen his patients.

Since Zeigler-Johnson studied such a small group, her results are not necessarily indicative of all African-American men. More studies of men of African descent, both in the United States and abroad, are needed, she says.

Dr. Tyeese Gaines is a physician-journalist with over 10 years of print and broadcast experience, now serving as health editor for theGrio.com. Dr. Ty is also a practicing emergency medicine physician in New Jersey. Follow her on twitter at @doctorty or on Facebook.