Prostate cancer is one of the most common cancers among men in the U.S. Each year, nearly a quarter of a million men are diagnosed with this disease. For most, their risk factors were clear. Age, family history and race are the most common links between patients, and men who have a greater risk due to those factors are usually well aware of it.
But what many men do not realize is certain risk factors for prostate cancer are a less obvious — in fact, some of them might seem downright odd. Unfortunately, most of them cannot be avoided. The good news is that treatment for prostate cancer has come a long way, so even if you do have one or more of these unexpected risk factors, there’s a good chance that you’ll be able to overcome the disease and live a long and fulfilling life after cancer.
So what are those risk factors?
Redheads, rejoice! While you might be the punchline of many a joke, if your hair is red, you have a lower chance of developing prostate cancer than men with blonde, brown or black hair. According to research published in the British Journal of Cancer, men who have naturally red hair are 54 percent less likely to develop prostate cancer than other men. Researchers speculate that this could be because the genes that influence hair color also influence cancer development.
The amount of hair you have could also play a role in your odds of developing prostate cancer. One study found that men who begin losing their hair before age 20 had a greater chance of developing prostate cancer than those men who keep a full head of hair longer. The connection between baldness and cancer is believed to be androgen, a hormone that inhibits hair growth and triggers cancer cell development.
Quick: look at your hands. Is your index finger longer than your ring finger? If it is, you have as much as a 30 percent lower risk of prostate cancer than men who have shorter index fingers. A study published in the British Journal of Cancer looked at the finger length of 1,500 men with prostate cancer and found that more than half had shorter index fingers. The scientists think that the differences in finger length are related to testosterone, which is known to promote the growth of prostate cancer. People who are exposed to less testosterone in the womb tend to have longer index fingers in general, and therefore, scientists think, a lower risk of developing cancer.
Being on the shorter end of the spectrum might be inconvenient when it comes to watching parades or reaching items on high shelves, but in terms of reducing cancer risk, shorter is better. A Britishstudy found that taller men have a greater risk of getting prostate cancer. In fact, for every four inches of height beyond five feet, seven inches, the risk of cancer increases by six percent.
Many studies have correlated location and environmental factors to cancer risk, and as it turns out, where you live could influence your prostate cancer risk. The Prostate Cancer Foundation notes that men who live in the northern part of the U.S. — specifically, above 40 degrees latitude (that’s the line that includes Philadelphia, Columbus, OH and Provo, UT) — are at a greater risk of dying from prostate cancer. A number of factors could contribute to this phenomenon, including the lower amounts of Vitamin D that the region receives from the sun.
It’s important to note that none of these factors conclusively determines whether one will develop prostate cancer, just as having a relative with the disease does not automatically mean you will get it, too. After all, there are plenty of tall, dark-haired men in the northeast who never receive a cancer diagnosis. However, doctors are using this information to help determine which men should receive earlier screenings and interventions.
If you happen to be a short, redheaded man with long fingers, you aren’t completely out of the woods. Keep in mind, your risk is reduced, not eliminated, so if you have concerns regardless of risk factors, see your doctor.
About the Author: Nina Bergeron writes about medical news and health. Her work has appeared in several major news outlets.