Balding in African-American men may be sign of prostate cancer risk

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Baldness may be a sign of prostate cancer risk in African-American men.

That's what the authors of a new study have found from looking at a population at higher risk for prostate cancer.

"We focused on African-American men because they are at high risk for developing prostate cancer and are more than twice as likely to die from prostate cancer than other groups in the United States," Charnita Zeigler-Johnson, research assistant professor at the Center for Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, said in a press release. "Although this is a high-risk group for poor prostate cancer outcomes, no published study had focused on evaluating baldness as a potential risk factor in a sample of African-American men."

About 238,590 new cases of prostate cancer will be diagnosed in 2013 and 29,720 men will die this year from the disease, according to the American Cancer Society. About one in six men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in his lifetime. It is currently the second leading cause of cancer death in American men, with one out of 36 men diagnosed passing away from prostate cancer. The disease normally is found in older men aged 65 or older, with the average diagnosis age being 67. It is very rare to find someone diagnosed before the age of 40.

Researchers looked at 318 men with prostate cancer and 219 control subjects. All the participants were African-American and had varying degrees of baldness. They were enrolled in a study pool between 1998 and 2010, and had completed a medical history questionnaire on the type of baldness they had -- none, frontal and vertex (top of the head baldness).

Participants who had any baldness were associated with a 69 percent increased risk of prostate cancer. Twenty percent of those who had prostate cancer had some level of baldness by the age of 30, but 13 percent of the control subjects had baldness as well.

African-American men who had frontal baldness instead of vertex baldness were twice as likely to be diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer, especially if they were diagnosed before the age of 60.

Diagnosis before 60 for frontal balding men was associated with six times higher increase in high-stage prostate cancer and four times increase in high-grade prostate cancer. Younger men with prostate cancer with frontal baldness were also more likely to have high prostate-specific antigen levels during diagnosis.

Younger men without baldness who had prostate cancer however, typically had three factors associated with prostate cancer risk: family history, history of smoking and a CYP3A43*3 genotype.

"Early-onset baldness may be a risk factor for early-onset prostate cancer in African-American men, particularly younger men," said Zeigler-Johnson. "Pending future studies to confirm our results, there is a potential to use early-onset baldness as a clinical indicator of increased risk for prostate cancer in some populations of men."

Dr. Lionel Banez, a research investigator at Durham Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Durham, N.C., told HealthDay that the findings are important because it is the largest study done on African-American men that looked at baldness and prostate cancer. He was not involved in the study.

However, he cautioned that it was "quite premature" to jump to conclusions and make any recommendations that bald African-American men should be screened more frequently for prostate cancers.

The study was published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention on March 26.

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