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Study Explains the Link Between Balding and Skin Cancer

A new study confirms that men experiencing hair loss are more likely to develop skin cancer due to greater exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays.

Male baldness has been previously associated with higher rates of skin cancer, and studies have suggested two possible explanations. Some research indicates that testosterone levels, a major driver of baldness in men, may increase the risk of skin cancer in people with hair loss.

It is also assumed that people experiencing hair loss receive greater sun exposure to their head and neck, increasing skin cancer risk.

Researchers at the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute in Australia tested these assumptions. The findings of their study were published in the journal Nature Communications.

"We sought to find clear answers, and unsurprisingly, it appears the more common-sense explanation is the correct one. Balding men are more susceptible to sun damage and skin cancer because they have less hair protection," said lead researcher Jue-Sheng Ong in a statement.

To prove the causal relationship, the researchers analyzed genetic data from more than 29,000 men with melanoma and keratinocyte cancer.

They also incorporated large-scale genetic findings on testosterone and hair loss to establish whether genes predisposing people to high testosterone or balding affect skin cancer risk.

The researchers did not find evidence that testosterone levels play any meaningful role in developing skin cancer in balding men. The analysis confirmed that hair loss increases the skin cancer risk in the head and neck region predominantly due to greater sun exposure. However, genes linked to hair loss and skin color also appear to play a role.

Interestingly, we did find an overlap between genes which cause hair loss and genes which affect skin color or pigmentation. Skin color is a known risk factor for skin cancer, and these results suggest pigmentation may also contribute to this increased risk in people with hair loss.

- Ong

Protecting yourself from skin cancer

Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States that affects one in five Americans during their lifetime.

Caucasians and men older than 50 have a higher risk of developing skin cancer than the general population, according to the American Melanoma Foundation. For instance, the incidence of melanoma — the deadliest form of skin cancer — in men 80 and older is three times higher than in women of the same age. However, a recent study found that despite higher prevalence among white men, Black males are more likely to die from melanoma.

While anyone can develop skin cancer, people with certain characteristics are more at risk:

  • A lighter natural skin color.
  • Skin that burns, freckles, reddens easily or becomes painful in the sun.
  • Blue or green eyes.
  • Blond or red hair.
  • Certain types and a large number of moles.
  • A family or personal history of skin cancer.
  • Older age.

Protect yourself against skin cancer by limiting your exposure to UV rays by:

  • Staying in the shade.
  • Covering your skin and head and wearing sunglasses when out in the sun.
  • Using a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30.
  • Avoid tanning beds and sunlamps.
  • Watch for new or abnormal moles.

The study authors hope that proving the causality between hair loss and blood cancer will help to inform the best evidence-based prevention for the condition.


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