Thanks to new research, aggressive prostate cancer treatment could be getting an overhaul, all thanks to a cheap, generic pill called finasteride.
Overturning a 2011 Food and Drug Administration warning that taking this drug could increase the risk of aggressive tumors, the latest findings from the New England Journal of Medicine of 19,000 men who enrolled in the Prostate Cancer Prevention Trial (PCPT) says the drug is more effective at treating prostate cancer than they initially thought.
In 2011, finasteride was sold by Merck under the brand names Proscar, used to treat an enlarged prostate, and Propecia, used to treat baldness. After the warnings about the drug came out, finasteride and its cousin, dutasteride, were prevented from being marketed as prostate cancer-prevention pills.
The new study assessed up to 18 years of followup data and survival rates of prostate cancer patients. What differentiates this study from the initial 2003 report is that the researchers drew on an additional seven years of experience since the study finished in 2004.
“Many of the men have surgery,” said researcher Dr. Ian Thompson, who led the project at University of Texas Health Sciences Center in San Antonio. “Many of the men have radiation. And those treatments have urinary and sexual side-effects that are actually far more common than people think. So eliminating all those cases would be a profound public health benefit.”
“Even if there is a higher risk of high-grade cancer, it doesn’t appear to have an impact on how long a man lives, and that’s reassuring,” Thompson said.
Whether doctors will begin prescribing these drugs to prevent and treat low-grade prostate cancer is yet to be seen, as there are still several in the medical community who don’t believe the benefits outweigh the negatives, but the study has many heads turning already.