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Hair Loss Drug Cuts Risk of Prostate Cancer
Men widely use the hormone-blocking drug finasteride to treat male-pattern baldness and shrink enlarged prostates. According to a recent study, they could use it to lower their risk for prostate cancer.
A 2003 study of 18,000 men showed that finasteride lowered a man’s risk for prostate cancer by 30 percent. However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) did not approve the drug to prevent prostate cancer due to a finding that although the drug reduced the risk of prostate cancer, slightly more men who took the drug developed fast-growing tumors than those who took a placebo.
A new follow-up study, reported mid-August in The New England Journal of Medicine, reignited the debate about the benefits of the baldness drug. This study revealed that 14 to 17 years after the men first enrolled in the study, the same number of men who used finasteride survived as those who took a placebo.
Based on a review of Social Security death records, the findings suggest that the baldness drug was not causing aggressive tumors but rather reducing the size of a man’s prostate, making it easier to find aggressive tumors. Although the study shows that men can safely use the drug to treat an enlarged prostate, it also raises questions about whether men should consider using the drug to prevent prostate cancer.
Should Men Be Prescribed this Drug?
Widespread use of the balding drug could save an estimated 70,000 men per year from a traumatic prostate-cancer diagnosis and treatment, according to the study’s authors.
Large numbers of men with low-grade tumors are often treated unnecessarily, rendering them impotent and incontinent, according to Dr. Ian Thompson, director of the cancer therapy and research center at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio and the study’s lead author. Preventing low-grade, non-deadly cancers is therefore beneficial.
“It doesn’t reduce the risk of cancers that take men’s lives, but low-grade cancers lead to huge amounts of follow-up testing and treatment,” Thompson said. “With the drug, you just don’t find as many cancers, and that’s a good thing.”
While the study’s findings might not prompt doctors to prescribe the drug to prevent cancer, it could prompt some men at a very high risk of prostate cancer, like those with a family history who undergo regular screening, to take the drug, according to Dr. Peter Scardino, head of the prostate-cancer program at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York. The study could also lead to further research into prostate cancer prevention and treatments for men with early-stage prostate cancer.
Merck sells the drug as Proscar and also in a lower dose as Propecia to treat hair loss.
Another prostate cancer study reveals that a tumor’s aggressiveness could be fixed at the time of its appearance, although diet, lifestyle and environmental factors may trigger the disease’s progression in low-level cases. This study’s findings, published mid-August in the journal Cancer Research, simply adds to rising evidence that small, slow-growing prostate tumors can remain in the body, carefully monitored rather than treated with surgery, radiation, hormone therapy or drugs.
Want more information? Check back to Hair Loss Specialists for updates on this topic. If you or someone you know is interested in hair restoration or the potential use of finasteride to treat more than hair loss, please contact one of our representatives to schedule a consultation with a specialist near you.