Cancer Risk: Check Your Fingers, And Your Health

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According to the study, if your index finger is longer than your ring finger, you are at a 33% lower risk for prostate cancer than when the hand pattern is reversed; ring finger longer than index finger.

[You And Your Health]

The length of a man's index finger may indicate his prostate cancer risk, a recent study conducted by The University of Warwick and the Institute of Cancer Research found.

The research findings were published in the British Journal of Cancer, causing a  buzz in the medical community and among men concerned about their prostate health.

According to the study, if your index finger is longer than your ring finger, you are at a 33% lower risk for prostate cancer than when the hand pattern is reversed; ring finger longer than index finger. The length of the first and third finger is set in the womb.

Researchers over a 15-year period collected data on finger length in 1,524 patients with prostate cancer as well as 3,044 healthy men. They found that more than half the men had the more common pattern of shorter index to ring finger.

Men with both fingers of the same length had the same risk as those with shorter index to ring finger. Men under 60 years with the beneficial hand pattern, had an even lower reduction of 87%. The Researchers believe that this phenomenon occurs because the homeobox genes HOXA and HOXD, control both growth and pattern of fingers --digits-- as well as the development of sex organs.

Babies exposed to less testosterone, a male sex hormone, are more likely to have longer index fingers. This consequently means that babies with more exposure to testosterone in the womb are more likely to have a shorter index to ring finger ratio, and thus a higher risk of prostate cancer. On the other hand, babies exposed to less testosterone before birth have some protection against prostate cancer in later life.

Prostate cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death in men, next to lung cancer in the U.S.. According to the American Cancer Society, about one in six men in the United States will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during their lifetime, yet only one in 35 men will succumb to the disease.

This difference in statistics indicates that compared to other types, prostate cancer typically progresses more slowly. This allows for earlier diagnosis and treatment. But many men live with the disease for years without knowing it, even though a simple test such as the PSA, prostate-specific antigen,* test could signal a risk, and ultimately lead to a diagnosis.

The University of Warwick and the Institute of Cancer Research study has greater implications for African American men than any other group. African American men are 60% more likely to develop prostate cancer, 2.5 times as likely to die from the disease and are at highest risk for the more aggressive form of prostate cancer, compared to Caucasian men.

The incidence of prostrate cancer in Asian American, and Latino American men are lower. The reasons for these racial and ethnic differences are not yet clear. For Asian men there is some speculation that the lower risk could be attributed to diet; for example, foods containing soy-based proteins, which have phytoestrogens that may lower cancer risks.

Without regards to race, men over 45 years old are at higher risk of prostate cancer. The rates increase as men age. If you are between 40 and 59, the rate is 1 in 38 that you will be diagnosed with prostate cancer, and 1 in 15 if you are between 60 to 69 years.

There are certain risk factors that predispose men to cancer. Men who are tall, have a family history of prostate cancer, are overweight with a sedentary lifestyle, and consume a diet lacking in certain cruciferous types of vegetables --such as broccoli, kale, cabbage-- are at highest risk. They are also at high risk if their diet includes high amounts of transfat and alcohol.

On the other hand, incidence of prostate cancer decreases for men who are vegetarians, eat a low carbohydrate diet and consume coffee. According to researchers from the American Association for Cancer Research, coffee may protect against the more aggressive form of prostate cancer. Harvard Medical School researchers followed 50,000 men over 20 years and found that 5% of men who drank more than six cups of coffee per day had 60 % reduced risks of developing the aggressive form of prostate cancer. The effect of coffee on prostate cancer is the same effect as that of lowering the risk of type 2 diabetes. It is suggested that coffee reduces the high insulin, a sugar-regulating hormone, level that is highly correlated with prostate cancer risk.

Other nutritional considerations for men who are at risk for prostate cancer should include vitamins D  and E (tocopherol), and omega 3 fatty acids--eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), a-linolenic acid, as well as selenium a mineral often found in your everyday multivitamins. Over- the counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin and ibuprofen show potential benefits. Also, the statins, which are medications used to treat high levels of cholesterol in the blood, were recently linked to reducing the risk of the aggressive type of prostate cancer**.

These findings, which demonstrate that a simple hand pattern portents a possible risk for prostate cancer, are exciting for several reasons: A simple test such as the relative length of a man’s fingers could potentially be used as a proxy to select at-risk men for prostate cancer; the commonly used PSA test, which is not an accurate diagnosis for prostate cancer, may be used less to rule out prostate cancer in younger men; and, it may reduce the need for more expensive diagnostic tests including biopsies or new blood tests, such as EPCA-2 (Early Prostate Cancer Antigen -2).

Helen Rippon, Head of research at the prostate cancer Charity in the U.K. says that it adds to the growing body of evidence that the balance of hormone exposure before birth influences our health for the rest of our lives.

However, men who check their hands and find that they have a shorter index finger should not be unduly concerned: “They share this trait with more than half of all men and it does not mean they will definitely develop prostate cancer,” she says. ***

*PSA tests can more accurately diagnose an enlarged prostate, such as BPH (benign prostatic hyperplasia), a non-cancerous enlargement of the prostate that occurs as men age, than it can diagnose prostate cancer.
**Speak to your doctor or pharmacist before changing or adding any medications to your current regimen.
***All men over 40 years should regularly test for prostate cancer.

Marcia D. Codling, RPh, MSM, CSA

"Speaking Truth To Empower."

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