February 25, 2009
Drug May Reduce Chances Of Prostate Cancer
Important medical groups are recommending that healthy men use regular tests and should think about taking a drug that may prevent future prostate cancer.
They do not outright say that adults should take the drug finasteride, generically called Proscar. Like all prescription drugs, there are both benefits and risks and it can be confusing.
"If a man is interested enough in being screened, then at least he ought to have the benefits of a discussion" said Dr. Barnett Kramer, a National Institutes of Health scientist and an author of the guidelines.
The guidelines are available in two medical journals and were mulled over on Tuesday at a cancer conference in Florida. The guidelines were written in connection with the American Society of Clinical Oncology and the American Urological Association.
The drug does not come cheap. Finasteride, taken daily, costs $2 to $3 per pill and may not be covered by insurance providers. The drug would also have to be consumed for seven years, which requires individual decisions, doctors note.
"There probably would be millions of different attitudes about taking a pill a day to prevent a condition that may or may not occur," said University of Michigan's Dr. Howard Sandler.
An esitmated 186,000 American men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer this year. The cancer develops slowly and can be fatal. Treatments frequently cause sexual and bladder problems.
"We still don't know if screening and aggressive treatment is a good thing," but with PSA tests, finasteride is another way to prevent the disease, noted the American Cancer Society's leading medical officer, Dr. Otis Brawley.
Finasteride reduces the size of the prostate and lowers testosterone. The drug already is taken for urinary issues like prostate enlargement.
The announcements of the benefits of Finasteride are "long overdue," said Dr. Eric Klein, prostate cancer chief at the Cleveland Clinic. When reviewing the drug's effects, "it's not a tough sell," he added.
Finasteride can cause a reduced sexual desire and can create difficultly in having an erection. Recently in a study of older males, this happened to people not taking the drug too. Finasteride's benefits include less urinary problems and incontinence.
"The overall quality of life was identical," and most side effects dissolve after a few weeks, Kramer said.
The instruction is "aimed at people like me 10 years ago," said Stewart Justman, a 60-year-old professor at University of Montana. He is in fighting his third battle with prostate cancer and was on the guidelines panel.
"If I had heard there was a possibility of preventing the disease, it certainly would have captured my interest," he said.
Ernest Bynum, a 68-year-old Cleveland man, began taking Proscar six years ago. Although the drug could increase the possibility of having urinary problems, when he heard it might prevent cancer, it was a no brainer.
"If it's a possibility of giving me a longer life, I want that," he said.
On the Net:
- National Institutes of Health
- American Society of Clinical Oncology
- American Urological Association
- University of Michigan
- American Cancer Society