Propencia & Prostate: Reducing Cancer Risk in Healthy Men
By Dr. Don Rose,
More men may soon be discussing the use of medicines like Propecia with their doctor. The reason: while Propecia is known mainly as a treatment for baldness, new guidelines suggest that taking this drug (and others related to it) may reduce the risk for prostate cancer in healthy men who exhibit no signs of the disease.
The Propecia-Prostate Connection
The American Society of Clinical Oncology and the American Urological Association have issued new guidelines recommending that these men talk to their doctors about using a 5-alpha reductase inhibitor (5-ARI). These drugs, which include a well-known treatment for male pattern baldness called finasteride (Propecia), can reduce levels of dihydrotestosterone (DHT) -- a hormone that stimulates the development of prostate cancer.
Previous studies have shown that 5-ARIs reduce the risk of contracting the illness by 25 percent. Since prostate cancer is the second-leading cause of death by cancer in men, this result can have a dramatic effect on the health of men across the country.
"Although one in every six men in the United States will be diagnosed with prostate cancer, we are not recommending that all men take 5-ARIs," stressed Dr. Barnett S. Kramer, co-chair of the guideline panel and associate director for disease prevention at the National Institutes of Health, in a news release issued by the organizations. "However, we would encourage men to begin a dialogue with their doctors to determine if they could benefit from taking 5-ARIs to reduce their prostate cancer risk."
Today, 5-ARIs are being used to treat both male-pattern baldness and benign prostatic hyperplasia (enlarged prostate), among other non-cancerous conditions. Hence, the guidelines call for doctors to discuss the pros and cons of 5-ARIs with male patients who satisfy three criteria:
- score a 3.0 or lower on a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test
- show no signs of prostate cancer, and
- receive (or plan to receive) regular disease screening.
The guidelines also suggest that men already taking a 5-ARI for other conditions should discuss continuing the medication as a way to prevent prostate cancer.
While supporting the guidelines, panel co-chair Dr. Paul F. Schellhammer pointed out that while 5-ARIs may decrease the risk of getting prostate cancer, it is not known whether these drugs reduce death from the disease. "However, the demonstrated effect of 5-ARIs in reducing prostate cancer incidence makes it reasonable to recommend them for use to prevent the disease," he said in the same news release.
The guidelines are scheduled to appear in the March issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology and The Journal of Urology.
If you’re a healthy male suffering from male pattern baldness who is also worried about prostate cancer, you are probably a good candidate for Propecia. However, as with any medication, you should talk with your doctor about whether you should take it. If you do take it, you may just improve your hair and your prostate at the same time.
The U.S. National Cancer Institute provides more information about prostate cancer at www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/types/prostate.
Cancer is just one of the risks we face as we get older. For example, seniors are more likely than younger adults to suffer a fall at home. To ensure one is protected against any type of emergency, a medical alert system like Life Alert is recommended. The Life Alert cost is small compared to the benefits it provides. The service can be a life saver for men and women alike, especially for those living alone. If you have Life Alert and are in danger, press the medical alert pendant and Life Alert can summon immediate help 24/7.
“Drugs May Help Healthy Men Lower Prostate Cancer Risk” from HealthDay News; SOURCE: American Society of Clinical Oncology/American Urological Association, news release, Feb. 24, 2009.
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