The hair loss medication known as finasteride may help protect men from being diagnosed with prostate cancer, according to a new long-term study into the drug’s effects.
Sometimes, the world of medicine has pleasant surprises in store for researchers. In this case, it’s in the form of a medication that, despite its typically prescribed use as a hair loss prevention drug, may have been helping to protect men from being diagnosed with prostate cancer while taking it regularly.
The medication in question is known as finasteride, which is marketed under the brand names Proscar and Propecia. It’s been used to treat hair loss since 1997, though originally the medication was developed, and given FDA approval, in 1992 to treat benign prostatic hyperplasia. Yet in the more than two decades its been on the market, finasteride has been used more for treating hair loss than for enlarged prostate.
But the results of a new long-term study, recently published in The New England Journal of Medicine, may rewrite the book on finasteride. In fact, where the FDA used to require a warning that finasteride may be linked to a greater chance of developing prostate cancer, researchers found that taking the medication may reduce the chances of being diagnosed as much as 25%.
From Paradoxical Results to Prophylactic Ones
Initial research into finasteride revealed what looked like a strange, paradoxical effect on prostate health. Specifically, older studies identified what seemed to be a higher rate of serious prostate tumor development in men that took the drug, either for hair loss or for BPH. Yet new research, conducted by the SWOG Cancer Research Network, found quite different results — namely, that finasteride use did not contribute to higher prostate cancer deaths in a statistically significant way.
In fact, researchers found that overall prostate risk rates declined by around 25%. More importantly, however, research findings indicated that the seemingly higher incidence rate of serious, more aggressive prostate tumors in men taking finasteride can be attributed to the drug making it easier to detect prostate cancer in the first place. In other words, men taking the medication as prescribed may have benefited from the drug in identifying a prostate tumor that would have otherwise gone undetected.
With early detection so important to treating prostate cancer effectively, this new revelation could see finasteride being prescribed much more commonly in the future.