The study led by The University of Warwick and The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) found men whose index finger is longer than their ring finger were one third less likely to develop the disease than men with the opposite finger length pattern.
“Our results show that relative finger length could be used as a simple test for prostate cancer risk, particularly in men aged under 60,” Joint senior author Professor Ros Eeles from the ICR and The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust says. “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.”
Over a 15 year period from 1994 to 2009, the researchers quizzed more than 1,500 prostate cancer patients at The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust in London and Surrey, Nottingham City Hospital and The Royal Hallamshire Hospitals in Sheffield, along with more than 3,000 healthy control cases. The men were shown a series of pictures of different finger length patterns and asked to identify the one most similar to their own right hand.
The most common finger length pattern, seen in more than half the men in the study, was a shorter index than ring finger. Men whose index and ring fingers were the same length (about 19 per cent) had a similar prostate cancer risk, but men whose index fingers were longer than their ring finger were 33 per cent less likely to have prostate cancer. Risk reduction was even greater in men aged under 60 years– these men were 87 per cent less likely to be in the prostate cancer group.
The relative length of index and ring fingers is set before birth, and is thought to relate to the levels of sex hormones the baby is exposed to in the womb. Less testosterone equates to a longer index finger; the researchers now believe that being exposed to less testosterone before birth helps protect against prostate cancer later in life. The phenomenon is thought to occur because the genes HOXA and HOXD control both finger length and development of sex organs.
Previous studies have found a link between exposure to hormones while in the womb and the development of other diseases, including breast cancer (linked to higher prenatal oestrogen exposure) and osteoarthritis (linked to having an index finger shorter than ring finger).
Joint senior author Professor Ken Muir from the University of Warwick says: “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, says: “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.”
Media Contact: ICR Science Press Officer Jane Bunce on 0207 153 5106 or after hours 077217 47900
Notes to editors: Prostate cancer affects more than 36,000 men in the UK each year. It is the most common cancer in men and the second leading cause of cancer death in men after lung cancer. One Briton dies every hour from the disease.
The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR)
- The ICR is Europe’s leading cancer research centre
- The ICR has been ranked the UK’s top academic research centre, based on the results of the Higher Education Funding Council’s Research Assessment Exercise
- The ICR works closely with partner The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust to ensure patients immediately benefit from new research. Together the two organisations form the largest comprehensive cancer centre in Europe
- The ICR has charitable status and relies on voluntary income, spending 90 pence in every pound of total income directly on research
- As a college of the University of London, the ICR also provides postgraduate higher education of international distinction
- Over its 100-year history, the ICR’s achievements include identifying the potential link between smoking and lung cancer which was subsequently confirmed, discovering that DNA damage is the basic cause of cancer and isolating more cancer-related genes than any other organisation in the world
For more information visit www.icr.ac.uk
The Royal Marsden
The Royal Marsden opened its doors in 1851 as the world’s first hospital dedicated to cancer treatment, research and education. Today, together with its academic partner, The Institute of Cancer Research, it is the largest and most comprehensive cancer centre in Europe treating over 40,000 patients every year. It is a centre of excellence, and the only NHS Trust to achieve the highest possible ranking in the Healthcare Commission’s Annual Health Check for the fourth year in a row.
The University of Warwick
The University of Warwick is one of the UK’s leading research universities; consistently ranked in the top 10 of all the University league tables produced by UK national newspapers and ranked 7th among the UK’s 100 universities for quality of research (Funding Councils’ Research Assessment Exercise, 2008).
For more information visit http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/
Prostate Action was formed by the merger between Prostate UK and Prostate Cancer Research Foundation in October 2010. It funds research and education to beat prostate disease and is the only national charity dealing with all three prostate diseases.
For more information contact Gareth Ellis-Thomas on 020 8394 7971.
Cancer Research UK
- Cancer Research UK is the world’s leading charity dedicated to beating cancer through research.
- The charity’s groundbreaking work into the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer has helped save millions of lives. This work is funded entirely by the public.
- Cancer Research UK has been at the heart of the progress that has already seen survival rates double in the last thirty years.
- Cancer Research UK supports research into all aspects of cancer through the work of more than 4,800 scientists, doctors and nurses.
- Together with its partners and supporters, Cancer Research UK’s vision is to beat cancer.
For further information about Cancer Research UK’s work or to find out how to support the charity, please call 020 7121 6699 or visit www.cancerresearchuk.org