In the past month it has been widely reported in the media that men who go bald in their twenties have a higher than average chance of developing prostate cancer. Last week however, the NHS moved to reassure sufferers of male pattern baldness that there is in fact no clear link between the two conditions.
Newspaper articles reporting on research originally published in the medical journal, Annals of Oncology, featured headlines such as “Going bald early ‘doubles prostate cancer risk,’” (Telegraph), “Baldness in 20’s doubles risk of developing prostate cancer in men,” (Daily Mirror) and, “Prostate cancer risk of early hair loss” (Daily Express).
The newspaper reports focused on the findings of a particular case study carried out by a team of French researchers, which asked balding men both with and without prostate cancer to score their ‘balding pattern’ at ages 20, 30 and 40. The quote from the researchers’ results which apparently triggered the headlines was: “Our study revealed that patients with prostate cancer were twice as likely to have Androgenetic Alopecia at age 20.”
However the results report also stated: “Whether this population can benefit from routine prostate cancer screening … remains to be determined.”
One of the major shortcomings of the research was that it relied too heavily on patient’s self-reporting the extent of their baldness in retrospect, potentially leading to factual inaccuracies due to the often flawed nature of memory.
The NHS meanwhile, in an article on the NHS Choices website, point out that previous studies on the topic have yielded the opposite result: “Other studies have not found such an association, and some have concluded that men with early hair loss have a lower risk of prostate cancer.”
In March of last year for example, many media outlets reported that researchers had found that men who were bald by the age of 30 were less at risk of developing prostate cancer. At that time, the BBC ran an article entitled “Baldness ‘could be good for your health’- say scientists.” That research suggested a link between high testosterone levels in men suffering from early baldness with a lower incidence of tumours.
Baldness link with prostate cancer over-reported
The NHS website also points out that while many of the newspapers did indeed report the findings of the study accurately, the accompanying headlines suggested “too strongly that there is a firm link between baldness and prostate cancer.”
The evidence at the moment seems to suggest that balding men have no more reason to worry about prostate cancer than any other group.
It’s clear that more research needs to be done before any links can realistically be made between baldness and prostrate cancer.