Finasteride is indeed a good bet against prostate cancer, say the guidelines issued by the American Society of Clinical Oncology and the American Urological Association.
Patients who are already taking finasteride for male pattern baldness or for shrinking enlarged prostates and those who go for regular screenings just as a precautionary measure are all being advised to check with the doctors on the long term use of finasteride. The guidelines were released on Tuesday.
Most of the evidence supporting the use of finasteride comes from the Prostate Cancer Prevention Trial, a large, randomized controlled clinical study of more than 18,000 men. In that trial, 24.4 percent of the men taking a placebo developed prostate cancer after seven years, compared with 18.4 percent of those taking finasteride.
In order to prevent one case of prostate cancer, researchers found, 71 men would have to be treated with the drug for seven years. The drug costs about $2 to $3 a day, or up to $1,000 a year.
A few problems need to be borne in mind while on finasteride. First while it may have few side effects, it curbs the effects of the hormone testosterone and may reduce sexual desire.
Besides, while those taking finasteride had fewer cases of prostate cancer, an initial analysis suggested they were more likely to develop a particularly aggressive cancer tumor. Later analysis sought to pick holes in the methodology adopted in the analysis.
Despite the seeming general consensus now that finasteride might not increase the risk of aggressive tumors, some experts expressed concern about the possibility, writes Roni Caryn Rabin in New York Times.
So ultimately it would be between the doctor and the patient to decide.