When it comes to a possible link between genetic hair loss
in men and a heightened risk of prostate cancer, the yo-yoing nature of media reports can leave people who are searching for a definitive answer scratching their heads.
However, an important new study in which more than 200,000 men were involved may finally put an end to speculation that male pattern hair loss
and prostate cancer are directly linked.
Baseline characteristics of all men included in the analysis and of men who developed prostate cancer* (click to enlarge)
UK Biobank data
Scientists in Oxford and Bristol pooled their skills to examine extensive data in the UK Biobank, the national and international health resource which is open to all legitimate health researchers and includes data from more than half a million volunteer participants. This data is widely used across the medical community.
The new study looked at 219,335 men who were free from cancer at baseline (the starting point used for comparison). Just over 4,500 of these men experienced prostate cancer during the following 5.6 years.
What the researchers were able to do was analyse these men’s medical, personal and lifestyle data to discover details of everything from ethnicity to sexuality to hairloss. The ratio of male pattern baldness in these men was perceived to be broadly similar to the ratio of hereditary hair loss
in the larger 200,000-plus cohort.
It could be argued that these results published in the British Journal of Cancer
makes a fairly compelling case for the idea that Male Pattern Baldness is not, in fact, a good way to predict a man’s heightened susceptibility to prostate cancer.
It is an emotive subject, and one in which multiple clearly in-depth studies have drawn very different conclusions. Six years ago, a number of British newspapers ran with stories that featured quite alarming headlines including the fairly black-and-white “Going bald early ‘doubles prostate cancer risk’”, something that the NHS was quick to refute
on its own website which pointed out that some previous studies on the topic had shown quite the opposite. The website even noted that some studies showed men with early hair loss actually had a lower risk of prostate cancer.
In America, at least two studies have stated that men with male pattern baldness are more likely to get prostate cancer, including one conducted by the National Cancer Institute in Maryland
. At the time they stated that, “compared with no balding, having any degree of baldness was associated with a 56 per cent higher risk of fatal prostate cancer.”
As was pointed out at the time however, these figures obviously do not suggest that Male Pattern Baldness leads to prostate cancer. If this was the case, then the number of men affected by prostate cancer would reflect that of male pattern hair loss. According to Cancer Research UK, prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men and, in 2014 approximately 46,700 cases were diagnosed in the UK. The most at-risk group appears to be men aged 70 and over who made up 54 per cent of UK cases diagnosed between 2012 and 2014. There are, however, an estimated 7.2 million men in the UK affected by male pattern hair loss, which affects around half of all men by age 50.
Hair loss drug may help
The great irony is that the established, clinically-proven oral male hair loss treatment drug, finasteride 1mg
, has been shown in some studies to protect against prostate cancer
. The drug’s original use was actually as a treatment for benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), which is more commonly known as an enlarged prostate.
But still contradictory reports come: in 2014 a large scale study in the United States looked at the data of almost 40,000 men
and found that those with male pattern hair loss who are bald by the time they reach 45 are more likely to develop aggressive prostate cancer than those who keep their hair.
While it may be that there are nuances like this within the available data that point to a heightened risk in some cases, the Oxford/Bristol study would appear to suggest that it would be incorrect in blanket terms to equate going bald with a heightened risk of prostate cancer.
When considering male hair loss treatment
, in addition to finasteride 1mg there is only one other clinically proven, MHRA-licensed and FDA-approved medication: minoxidil. This is applied directly to the scalp where it is needed, either once or twice per day, as directed.
Men have the option of using topical formulations of high-strength minoxidil
with or without finasteride 1mg, in the approved one-a-day pill form, and may also use relevant hair growth supporting products
*Table 1 taken from Prospective investigation of risk factors for prostate cancer in the UK Biobank cohort study by Aurora Perez-Cornago, Timothy J Key, Naomi E Allen, Georgina K Fensom, Kathryn E Bradbury, Richard M Martin and Ruth C Travis. British Journal of Cancer, ISSN: 0007-0920 EISSN: 1532-1827