If you’re a man and you have fingers, I have some good news and some bad news. Recent studies have shown that if your index finger is shorter than your ring finger, you are at a significantly higher risk for prostate cancer. That’s the bad news. The good news is that you are more likely to be proficient at traditionally male sports, such as football, according to similar studies. All this time you have been out there waving your “We’re Number One!” giant foam hand and all the while not realizing its potential cosmic significance.
But wait, finger length as a predictor of disease or physical capability? Bizarre but true, according to a November 2010 study published in the British Journal of Cancer and, oddly, the myriad of finger-focused research articles that came before it. According to a summary story on this research:
Researchers studied the ratio between the 2nd and 4th finger of the right hand in 1,524 prostate-cancer patients and 3,044 healthy people over 15 years. Men with longer index fingers were 33% less likely to develop prostate cancer, and men under 60 had an 87% lower risk. In the prostate-cancer group, index fingers were longer in about 23% of the participants and shorter in 57%. In the control group, index fingers were longer in 31% and shorter in 52%. The rest of the men had fingers of equal length. The findings are in line with a recent study of 366 Korean men, which found a significant association between digit ratio and prostate-cancer risk.
Who knew? We all walk around waving our fingers about for a variety of purposes but I never thought to stop and measure mine, much less figure out whether their length was correlated with anything interesting or worrisome, such as osteoarthritis (short index finger-linked) or breast cancer risk (long index finger-linked). Some researchers have even linked finger length to sexual orientation.
Apparently it’s a hormone thing. If you happened to be born floating in a uterus that had an overabundance of estrogen rather than testosterone, you end up with a shorter index finger and a longer ring finger. Extra testosterone during your prenatal hotel stay and you get the opposite. Scientists actually have their finger on the pulse of this weird fact and have done a variety of studies to prove out their theories. Little research has been done relative to the length of the middle finger, but I’m pretty confident that its prominence is highly correlated with participation in a road rage incident or a bad break-up.
Learning about the potential importance of finger length in disease screening made me wonder what other appendages had a similar role. I learned that a persistently red big toe can be a sign of gout, but didn’t find other evidence of toes as a window on one’s medical future, though it may well exist. I didn’t do an exhaustive study, I’ll admit, but so far no evidence that nose length is correlated with anything of note other than a propensity towards lying.
Considering the vast amount of money that goes into developing and marketing products for screening and diagnosis of a variety of medical conditions, it is provocative to think that our own external features may afford us a technology- and money-free way of finding out some of these things.
I will be curious to see if screening programs, such as those in place at employer worksites, Walgreens and elsewhere, might start making use of these methodologies alongside the blood, saliva and other more invasive approaches. Next time someone in a mask tells you to stick up your hands, it may not mean you are about to be a robbery victim. They might just be trying to help you live a healthier life.