A man whose index finger is longer than his ring finger has a statistically lower risk of developing prostate cancer compared to those whose index fingers are shorter than their ring fingers, scientists from The University of Warwick and the Institute of Cancer Research, UK, revealed in the British Journal of Cancer. The risk was one third lower for those with the longer index finger.

Senior author, Professor Ros Eeles, said: "Our results show that relative finger length could be used as a simple test for prostate cancer risk, particularly in men aged under 60. This exciting finding means that finger pattern could potentially be used to select at-risk men for ongoing screening, perhaps in combination with other factors such as family history or genetic testing." The researchers questioned over 1,500 patients with prostate cancer as well as 3,000 health controls at The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust in London and Surrey, Nottingham City Hospital and The Royal Hallamshire Hospitals in Sheffield (all in England).

They all were asked to look at pictures of different hand patterns and to pick out which one was most similar to their right hand.

The picture most commonly picked was the one which had a shorter index finger than the ring finger. 19% of the men had index and ring fingers of the same length - they were also found to have very similar risks of developing prostate cancer.

The risk of developing prostate cancer was lower still for those whose index finger was longer than their ring finger - 33% lower. Men aged less than 60 years with longer index fingers than ring fingers were 87% less likely to have prostate cancer, the researchers wrote.

When the baby is in the womb it is exposed to sex hormones, such as testosterone. Experts say that the more testosterone the baby is exposed to the shorter his index finger will be. Therefore, being exposed to less testosterone while still in the womb most likely protects a male from subsequently developing prostate cancer, the authors wrote.

The authors said: "The phenomenon is thought to occur because the genes HOXA and HOXD control both finger length and development of sex organs." Prior studies have demonstrated an association between hormone exposure in the womb and certain disease risks later in life, such as breast cancer and estrogen exposure, and osteoarthritis and having a shorter index than ring finger.

Joint senior author, Prof. Ken Muir, said: "Our study indicates it is the hormone levels that babies are exposed to in the womb that can have an effect decades later. As our research continues, we will be able to look at a further range of factors that may be involved in the make-up of the disease." Emma Halls, Chief Executive of Prostate Action, said: "This research brings us another step closer to helping determine risk factors for prostate cancer, which is possibly the biggest issue in current thinking about preventing and treating the disease. However, we are still a long way from reducing the number of men who die of prostate cancer every year and need more research and education in all areas to achieve this." "Hand pattern indicates prostate cancer risk"
A A Rahman, A Lophatananon, S S Brown, D Harriss, J Anderson, T Parker, D Easton, Z Kote-Jarai, R Pocock, D Dearnaley, M Guy, L O'Brien, R A Wilkinson, A L Hall, E Sawyer, E Page, J-F Liu, The UK Genetic Prostate Cancer Study Collaborators, British Association of Urological Surgeons' Section of Oncology, R A Eeles and K Muir
British Journal of Cancer advance online publication 30 November 2010; doi: 10.1038/sj.bjc.6605986

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