A fascinating study out of the National Cancer Institute has significant implications for men at risk for prostate cancer and men with enlarged prostates--for most men, really. But the study invites possible overinterpretation. Let's parse it carefully.
Bottom line first
Finasteride, a drug used to treat benign prostatic hyperplasia (non-cancerous prostate enlargement, also known as BPH) has previously been linked to a reduction in prostate size and lower risk of prostate cancer. This new report suggests it may also help doctors identify, at an early stage, fast-growing cancer in the gland.
This study in 50 words or less
Researchers examining data from a large National Cancer Institute trial discovered that in men whose prostates were smaller due to taking finasteride for BPH, biopsies were more likely to reveal aggressive cancers than in men not taking the drug.
Yes, but. . .
The study does not show that the drug reduces risks for aggressive cancers, only that they are discovered earlier.
Previous interpretation of the same data suggested finasteride may boost risk of aggressive cancers. This report suggests those findings are due to detection of more high grade tumors, not to increased incidence. Still, the authors recommend caution before concluding that finasteride does not increase risk for aggressive tumors.
The improved detection came only with a biopsy, not a blood test. There is no evidence that finasteride makes the PSA blood test more accurate or more likely to identify aggressive cancers.
Finasteride is an inexpensive generic drug, reducing the likelihood that drug company influence has skewed the results.
So what are you going to do about it?
Next time you meet with your physician or urologist, you may wish to discuss the role finasteride could play in prostate health.
Finasteride has not been approved for use in prostate cancer risk reduction, although it is occasionally used for that purpose. Its cancer-risk-reduction properties are usually considered a beneficial side effect of using the drug for BPH.
An NCI journal press release explains how two related studies bolster this report's conclusions.
Check out our BPH treatment information at prostatecommons.com, which includes material on the use of finasteride. The resources includes two excellent videos.
Ask online questions or offer comments to any of our prostate health experts, who include two urologists happy to take your questions.
Also on our site, see some common questions and answers provided by experts at Harvard Medical School.
Published On: September 17, 2007