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HEALTH REPORT - Mixed Results of Prostate Drug Test - 2003-07-08

Broadcast: July 9, 2003

This is the VOA Special English Health Report.

An American study has shown mixed results in testing the effects of a drug as a way to prevent cancer of the prostate gland in men. The drug is called finasteride. Finasteride is now used to reduce swollen prostate glands. It is also used in different amounts to prevent some hair loss.

Researchers at the National Cancer Institute reported the results of the study in the New England Journal of Medicine. The nationwide study began in nineteen-ninety-three. Researchers gave either five milligrams of finasteride or an inactive substance to more than eighteen-thousand healthy men over the age of fifty-five.

Seven years later, almost nine-thousand men were still involved in the study. A little less than half of them were taking finasteride. The others were still taking the inactive substance for comparison.

The researchers found prostate cancer in eighteen percent of the men who took finasteride. This compared to twenty-four percent of the men in the other group. So, the chances of getting prostate cancer were found to be twenty-five percent lower in the finasteride group than for those who took the inactive substance.

Researchers ended the study early because it had already shown the effects of the drug. They said these results show it is possible to prevent prostate cancer.

But another finding of the study showed a possible danger. This finding involved just those men in the study who developed prostate cancer. About six percent of the men who took finasteride developed what appeared to be unusually aggressive cancers. In the comparison group, five percent of the men developed such growths.

The researchers said this difference was seen within the first year of the study. They do not know the reason. One possibility is that the drug may prevent only those cancers that grow more slowly than usual. The researchers said more studies must be done to find out.

Medical experts urged men to talk to their doctors about these results before they decide if they should take finasteride to prevent prostate cancer. Some said it may be that only men with especially high chances of getting the disease should use the drug for this purpose. Doctors say those at higher risk include black men and men with a family history of prostate cancer.

This VOA Special English Health Report was written by Nancy Steinbach.