THURSDAY, Aug. 12 (HealthDay News) -- Even though a major study found that the drug finasteride could reduce the risk of prostate cancer by 25 percent, it is still not being widely prescribed for that purpose, Veterans Administration researchers report.
Under the name Proscar, finasteride is commonly prescribed to treat the non-cancerous condition called benign prostatic hyperplasia, also known as enlarged prostate. Finasteride is also sold under the brand name Propecia, to help treat male pattern baldness.
In 2003, the Prostate Cancer Prevention Trial (PCPT), involving more than 18,000 patients, found that finasteride cut the incidence of prostate cancer by 25 percent -- the first drug to do so.
But a much-publicized follow-up analysis undercut that good news when it suggested that the drug might actually boost the odds of particularly aggressive prostate tumors.
At the time, "there was a concern that [finasteride] may have made worse the number of cases of more severe prostate cancer," explained the lead researcher of the new study, Dr. Linda Kinsinger, chief consultant for preventive medicine at the Veterans Health Administration National Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention in Durham, N.C.
Upon a re-analysis of the data, however, that uptick in risk for more aggressive tumors turned out to be false: finasteride did not raise the risk for an aggressive tumor, it simply helped make prostate screening more sensitive, so these tumors were spotted more readily.
But the reassuring results of that 2008 re-analysis may not have trickled down to doctors and patients today, Kinsinger's team reports in the September issue of Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.
Instead, too many doctors remain wary of prescribing finasteride, so the numbers of prescriptions written to help prevent prostate cancer hasn't budged for years.
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