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Propecia and Prostate Cancer

What Do We Know About Propecia and Prostate Cancer?

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Updated July 14, 2010

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

What do we know about Propecia and prostate cancer? Has research that seems to show a possible protective benefit for some men taking Propecia really changed what doctors recommend to men with a high risk of developing prostate cancer?

Research on Propecia and Prostate Cancer

Evidence has come forward that Propecia (finasteride) -- a drug used to treat male pattern baldness -- could possibly help in the prevention of prostate cancer in men with high risk of developing the disease. Other studies have also shown that Propecia (or similar drugs) may delay the onset of prostate cancer in some men.

It was long thought that Propecia or similar drugs might offer some protective benefits given how they work in the body. Propecia is one of a class of drugs that counteract the effects of testosterone in the body. Testosterone is known to be one of the major drivers of prostate cancer growth.

What is important to remember about these studies is that they are only preliminary. Additionally, some men who have taken Propecia or similar drugs in an attempt to prevent or delay prostate cancer have also encountered significant side effects.

What Are Some of the Most Important Potential Side Effects of Propecia?

Because Propecia counteracts the effects of testosterone in the body, significant sexual side effects can develop.

Additionally, studies have shown that the PSA level of men on Propecia may be recorded as falsely low, causing cancers to be missed.

Most importantly, some studies have shown that while men taking Propecia may have a slightly smaller chance of developing prostate cancer, those cancers that do develop tend to be of a higher grade and more aggressive on average.

Do Doctors Typically Recommend Propecia for Prostate Cancer Prevention?

Today, very few doctors recommend Propecia to the the vast majority of men with prostate cancer. This is primarily due to the sometimes significant side effects that can results, but it is also due to the possibility that men taking Propecia or similar drugs will develop more aggressive cancers (as some studies have suggested).

Overall, if Propecia is a drug that you are interested in taking in the hopes of prostate cancer prevention, talk to your doctor and be sure to review all of the pros and cons of the decision.

Sources:

D'Amico A, Roehrborn, CG. Effect Of 1 Mg/day Finasteride On Concentrations Of Serum Prostate-Specific Antigen In Men With Androgenic Alopecia: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Lancet Oncol. 2007 Jan; 8(1):21-5.

Thompson IM, Goodman PJ, Tangen CM, et al. Jun 24. The influence of finasteride on the development of prostate cancer. N Engl J Med. 2003 Jul 17;349(3):215-24. Epub 2003.

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