Friday, February 18, 2011

New story about young men, hairlines, and prostate cancer sounds alarmist

I don’t think that prostate cancer and breast cancer rank as potential sudden health problems in the sense of viral pandemics, but I was amused, or perhaps not amused, at a recent story that young men who show significant scalp hair loss before age 21 should be watched all their lives for prostate cancer. Presumably this relates to blood testosterone levels. Male pattern baldness is one of the most predictable genetic traits; some anthropologists claim that baldness is a way of broadcasting "survivability" to female partners, and therefore confers an indirect reproductive advantage, and therefore persists. 

My father died of metastatic prostate cancer in 1986 just before his 83rd birthday, but he was healthy and active almost all his life before the last four weeks.  Most (though not all) prostate cancer is indolent for years, and the treatment may be worse than the disease.  I’m getting hounded by my own doctor by an elevated PSA at the last Medicare physical. “Activity” may help.

We have a different culture now, where we expect older adults to anticipate some years with disfigurement or disability because life can be extended by preventive surgery – and we expect a measure of late life family support that is unprecedented.

I have a photo of myself at 17, just before high school graduation. It shows a thinning hairline.  In fact, many men (especially “northern Europeans”), even in their early twenties, have slight “widows peak” indentations in their hairlines, not necessarily progressive, sometimes just on one side.  They might start reaching for Rogaine (insurance doesn’t cover it because it’s cosmetic), but do they need to “worry”? 

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