The tie makes sense because hormones called androgens play a role in hair loss and prostate cancer development. Plus, both conditions are inherited to a degree.
Still, the agreed-upon risk factors for the disease continue to be older age, black race, family history, and genetic mutations, such as BRCA mutations.
A new study, though, has added urgency to the question of whether or not baldness is also a risk factor. For the first time, researchers have found that it's tied to the risk for prostate cancer death.
The risk is 1.5 times greater in bald men than in those with no baldness, according to an analysis of data from a different, national study in the U.S.
The results were published in the Feb. 1 issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology.
The researchers looked at info on 4,316 men who were 25 to 74 years old from 1971 to 1974 and hadn't been diagnosed with cancer before. To date, there have been 3,284 deaths, 107 of which were caused by prostate cancer.
Researchers found the risk for fatal prostate cancer was 56% higher in men with any baldness than in those with no baldness. In men with moderate balding, the risk was 83% higher.
Despite the findings, baldness is not a certain risk factor for prostate cancer, says researcher Michael Cook, PhD, of the National Cancer Institute. But "it is conceivable that, in the future, patterns and degree of male baldness may play a small role in estimating risk of prostate cancer," he says.
A urologist not involved with the study agrees, calling the higher risk “important but modest.”
In other words, the risk linked to baldness is a lot lower overall than the risk for lung cancer death tied to smoking, for example, says Stephen Freedland, MD, from the Cedars-Sinai Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute.
Both he and Cook say more research is needed. Researchers need to look at the relation between prostate cancer and distinct patterns of baldness, as well as age at the onset of baldness, Cook and his colleagues say.