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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Brown Researchers Find Association between Male Pattern Baldness and Incident Skin Cancer

Male pattern baldness is the most common cause of hair loss in men. It is associated with higher levels of dihydrotestosterone and increased expression of androgen receptors. A potential androgen basis of melanoma has been proposed to explain the differential gender distribution of melanoma. Supporting this hypothesis, a group at Brown University recently reported that women with a history of severe teenage acne had higher midlife plasma free testosterone levels and displayed higher risk of melanoma. The potentially common androgen basis could suggest a possible link between male pattern baldness and risk of melanoma.


[Photo: Dr. Wen-Qing Li]

The purpose of this study, led by Dr. Wen-Qing Li, Assistant Professor of Epidemiology at the School of Public Health and Assistant Professor of Dermatology at the Alpert Medical School, was to examine the association between male pattern baldness and risk of incident skin cancer, including invasive melanoma, invasive squamous cell carcinoma, and basal cell carcinoma, in a prospective analysis based on 36,032 participants from the Health Professionals’ Follow-up Study.

Overall, there were 327 melanoma cases, 1,324 squamous cell carcinoma cases, and 8,438 basal cell carcinoma cases in the study population between baseline in 1992 until 2012. Male-pattern baldness was not significantly associated with risk of incident melanoma, but was significantly associated with an increased risk of squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma. The risk ratio for those with the highest category of baldness was 1.33 for squamous cell carcinoma and 1.23 for basal cell carcinoma, compared with no baldness. Analysis by body sites found significant associations between frontal plus moderate to severe vertex baldness and risk of melanoma on the head and neck. The associations were particularly stronger for scalp melanoma, but not for non-scalp head and neck sites.

The results of this study suggest male pattern baldness may be associated with increased risk of skin cancer, but the associations may only exist for those occurring at the head and neck, particularly the scalp. The findings may hold clinical implications that male pattern baldness may contribute to the identification of those at high risk for skin cancer, which may inform clinical practice. Public messages are also warranted for balding men to prevent the skin on their head from excessive sun exposure.

This study was published in International Journal of Cancer, Volume 139, Issue 12, 2016.

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