Fingerprints may help detect risk of diseases before any symptoms appear Picture: Chris Schneider

Fingerprints, long used to solve crimes, may also help track down people at risk of diseases before any symptoms appear.

New research suggests that women with specific types of fingerprints - namely fewer loops and more arches - may be more at risk of developing gynaecological cancers.

Previously, researchers have suggested there may be links between fingerprints - and equally unique palm prints - and the risk of conditions as diverse as diabetes, Alzheimer's, leukaemia, impotence, depression and even gum disease.

The theory behind dermatoglyphics - the scientific study of fingerprints and disease links - is that if the growth of limbs, organs or other tissues is disturbed in very early foetal life, there will also be changes in the configurations of finger and palm prints.

These changes, it is argued, are therefore visible and permanent markers of abnormal development in the nervous system and other areas that are developing in the womb at the same time.

Our fingerprints, the tiny ridges and troughs in the skin, are unique.

Although identical twins share DNA, no two people have ever been found to have the same fingerprints.

Each unique pattern is produced by a combination of effects on the foetal fingers in the womb when they are formed between the 11th and 24th week of pregnancy.

The environment in the womb is influenced by factors including blood pressure, hormonal mix, maternal diet and any infections, the position of the foetus in the womb and the density of amniotic fluid around the foetal fingers.

These, as well as genes, are thought to play key roles in determining each individual pattern.

The researchers from Tehran University of Medical Sciences, Iran, also analysed previous research on breast cancer, revealing a higher percentage of arches in cancer patients’ prints.

The researchers suggested that fingerprints could be a cheaper and faster method for screening large numbers of people.

Professor Raj Persad, consultant urologist with Bristol Urology Associates, said: “There is scientific rationale to link any genetically determined feature such as fingerprints with other genetically determined characteristics, such as specific types of infertility."