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Men who start going bald in their 20s may have more than their appearance to worry about as they grow older. A new study found early hair loss was associated with double the normal risk of developing prostate cancer.

For the study, published in Annals of Oncology, 388 prostate cancer patients and 281 healthy men were questioned about their history of hair loss.

The researchers, led by Philippe Giraud of the Paris Descartes University, can't say for sure why early-onset baldness and prostate cancer are linked. But they suspect male sex hormones may play a role in both conditions.

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Dr. Giraud said these men could benefit from early cancer screening. He also speculated they may be able to reduce their prostate-cancer risk by taking finasteride (brand names Propecia and Proscar), a hormone-blocking drug that is used for the treatment of male-pattern baldness and to shrink enlarged prostates. Some studies have suggested the medication may decrease the incidence of prostate cancer.

Still, the number of men in the study was relatively small. And at least one earlier study found that men whose hair started to thin in their 30s had a reduced risk of prostate cancer. So more research must be done to confirm the latest findings before doctors consider prescribing finasteride to this group of men as a cancer-prevention strategy. In an e-mail, Dr. Giraud noted finasteride does have some troubling side effects. About 15 per cent of men report impotence or decreased sex drive.

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