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What Finger Length Says About Your Health

Health Signs in Hands: Page 2

By , Caring.com senior editor
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Comparative finger length can tell you a surprising amount about your likelihood of having certain conditions. Typically, men's ring fingers tend to be longer than their index fingers, while in women it's the opposite. Women who have a "masculinized" pattern, with ring fingers longer than their index fingers, are twice as likely to suffer from osteoarthritis, according to a 2008 study published in Arthritis and Rheumatism. The study found osteoarthritis of the knees to be more common in both men and women with longer ring fingers, but the effect was most pronounced in women. Longer index fingers, on the other hand, are associated with a higher risk of breast cancer in women and with a lower risk of prostate cancer in men. A 2010 study found that men whose index fingers were noticeably longer than their ring fingers were 33 percent less likely to develop prostate cancer.

Why? Scientists aren't sure yet, but they believe finger length is affected by exposure to varying amounts of the hormones testosterone and estrogen in the womb. Longer ring fingers indicate greater prenatal exposure to testosterone, while longer index fingers suggest higher estrogen exposure. Since breast cancer is estrogen-fueled, longer index fingers correlate with higher breast cancer. In men, more testosterone is linked to a higher incidence of prostate cancer, since one fuels the other. As for the osteoarthritis connection, scientists don't have a clear explanation yet but think it may have something to do with the way hormones affect early bone growth.

What to do: Women who have longer ring fingers may want to be on the alert for weak or sore joints, particularly knees, and get injuries or soreness evaluated. Maintaining a healthy weight and exercising regularly can delay the onset of osteoarthritis. Men who may be at higher risk for prostate cancer should be proactive and discuss PSA testing with their doctors. Women ages 50 to 74 should have regular mammograms for breast cancer screening (some women may opt to start at age 40); if you think you may be at higher risk, talk to your doctor about more intensive screening.

Some researchers believe that finger length should be used as a criterion for more comprehensive cancer screening, but this is controversial. In the meantime, follow suggested guidelines for age-appropriate screening tests, and make your doctor aware of any additional risk factors you may have, such as family history.