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Finger length ratios and breast cancer risk

Wednesday 26 September, 2012 by Bek

A photocopy of two hands

 "Well it's good you've got five fingers on each hand," said David Muller, researcher and author of a study into finger length ratios and breast cancer risk here at Cancer Council Victoria.

I had just scanned my hands and emailed him a copy of them for inspection and then there was an eerie silence in my inbox.

Was the difference between the length of my index and ring fingers on my right hand wildly different from the ratios of the lengths of those fingers on my left hand? Was he too scared to call me back? Was the news that bad?

"Um..." I hear you thinking, "I think you're meant to scan another body part for detecting breast cancer..."

And you're completely right. The best way to detect breast cancer is to be breast aware and if you're over 50 to keep up to date with your mammograms.

But cancer research is always evolving and this week research into second and fourth digit ratios and breast cancer has been published in the British Journal of Cancer and of course I'm curious to know - what does it mean for me?

The research found that women with a greater difference between the digit ratio (between index and ring fingers) on their right hand to their left were at a slightly lower risk of breast cancer.

Now before you go looking down at your own hands - HEY, BACK UP HERE I SAID ‘BEFORE', you should know what David's actual response was to my scan:

"I can't tell anything about you individually from your hands! The differences that we have studied are too small to reliably judge by eye. Even if they could be judged by eye, our results only provide estimates of changes in risk on average, and can't be used to predict individual risk."

So now we can all relax and stop staring at our fingers. There is more research to be done in this area but what led folks like David to even investigate the link between digit ratios and cancer?

"We know that breast cancer is a hormonally driven and regulated disease, and there has been increasing interest in identifying factors in early life that might affect risk of breast cancer. There is also some evidence that the ratio of the lengths of the index and ring fingers of the right hand, as well as the difference between the digit ratios of the right and left hands, are associated with in-utero testosterone exposure.

"As a result, the digit ratios provide a window into the in-utero hormone environment. We used this in an attempt to identify whether in-utero exposure to testosterone might influence later risk of breast cancer."

The research isn't attempting to create new detection methods for breast cancer but rather better understand what causes breast cancer to develop.

And while finger ratios can't tell you personally whether you're at greater risk of cancer, the key to preventing many breast cancers is in your hand - maintaining a healthy weight, limiting alcohol and regular exercise will all decrease your risk.


Well that's news to me. The last time I heard talk about finger differences it was supposedly indicative of being a lesbian.

From: Wilma, 15/04/2013

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