Prostate Cancer Study Fingers Surprising New Risk Factor

man, stare, finger, istockphoto, 4x3
man, stare, finger, istockphoto, 4x3

(CBS) New research on prostate cancer points to a surprising risk factor for the disease: the length of a man's index finger.

Men whose index finger is longer than their ring finger were one-third less likely to develop prostate cancer, according to a study published in the British Journal of Cancer.

"Our results show that relative finger length could be used as a simple test for prostate cancer risk, particularly in men aged under 60," the study's lead author, Professor Ros Eeles, of the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, said in a written statement. "This exciting finding means that finger pattern could potentially be used to select at-risk men for ongoing screening, perhaps in combination with other factors such as family history or genetic testing."

Eeles' team quizzed more than 1,500 English prostate cancer patients and more than 3,000 healthy men over a 15-year period, from 1994 to 2009. They showed the men a series of pictures of different finger length patterns, asking each to say which was most like his own right hand.

What the reduced risk in men whose index fingers are longer than their ring fingers? The researchers fingered exposure to sex hormones that the men were exposed to before birth, in their mother's womb. They think that being exposed to less testosterone before birth means a lower risk for prostate cancer later on - because the genes that affect finger length and sex organ development are the same ones.

Does this mean that guys are in the clear if their index fingers are shorter than their ring fingers? Alas, no. Previous research linked that pattern to increased risk for arthritis.