Two thousand local men took part in the culmination of a 19 year study that found the drug finasteride reduces the risk of low grade prostate cancer by roughly 40 percent and the risk of all prostate cancers by 30 percent.
“There's a 43% reduction in the risk of detection of the slow-growing cancers that some men look at and say ‘I need to have it treated because I’m concerned its cancer,’” said Dr. Ian Thomspon, director of the Cancer Therapy & Research Center at UT Health Science Center.
But often, says Thompson, who was a principle researcher in the nationwide study, slow-growing prostate cancer does not require treatment. Yet, patients seek it and consequently suffer unnecessary side effects and emotional stress.
Finasteride is a generic drug commonly used to treat male pattern baldness and enlarged prostate.
In 2003, research showed that finasteride provided a 25 percent reduction in prostate cancer, but some questioned whether the drug simultaneously increased the risk of more aggressive forms of the disease.
But further research concluded that by shrinking the prostate, the drug made tumors easier to find.
In a continuation of study, a total of 19,000 men were studied over 7 years. Half were given the drug while the other half were given a placebo.
The follow up looked at survival rates of both groups and found no impact.
Ultimately, the effectiveness of the drug allows doctors to focus on the more serious cases of prostate cancer that do require treatment shifting their focus from tumors that need only monitoring.
“So what this medication does is it significantly reduces the detection of those so that those men are not forever more a cancer survivor and we focus on the ones that are important,” Thompson said.
Dr. Carl Raba was diagnosed with prostate cancer 9 years ago, but like the majority of cases, his tumor was slow-growing and requires only monitoring.
But until that determination was made, the stress and helplessness was still there.
“It was like running into a brick wall, what to do,” Raba said. “I’ve felt the emotion. I’ve felt the uncertainty and if we can protect other people from having that same experience, I think it’s a wonderful advance.”
Finasteride is already on the market and covered by most insurance plans.