Ask the Experts: How Male Pattern Baldness Drugs Affect Screening Tests for Prostate Cancer
Male pattern baldness is a common problem. By age 35, over 60 percent of American men will have some hair loss. Some men have a receding hairline. Other men have thinning hair at the top of their head.
Many “miracle cures” claim to make men’s hair grow. You may have seen these ads on TV or in magazines. They are not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) because they are not effective. But drugs recommended by the American Hair Loss Association are effective. Some drugs for hair loss can affect prostate cancer screening tests. Here’s what you should know.
The prostate is a small gland that is part of a man's reproductive system. The prostate is located under the bladder and helps produce the fluid for ejaculated semen. Prostate-specific antigen, or PSA, is a protein produced by prostate cells. The PSA test is a blood test that measures PSA levels and is done by clinicians to help screen for prostate cancer. Men usually have low levels of PSA in their blood. High PSA levels can be a sign of prostate cancer or other prostate problems, like enlarged prostate or an infection. Regular prostate cancer screenings help detect prostate cancer at an early stage.
Finasteride (brand name Propecia or Proscar) is the first-line drug for treating male pattern baldness. Finasteride works well for preventing hair loss, but lowers PSA test results by about 50%. This can affect your doctor’s ability to screen for prostate cancer. Other drugs for male pattern baldness, such as minoxidil (Rogaine), do not affect PSA.
Talk to your doctor about when to start prostate cancer screening with a PSA test. This will depend on risk factors like age, race and family history of prostate cancer. Tell your doctor if you are taking finasteride or any other hair loss prevention products.
Dr. Wayne J.G. Hellstrom is professor of urology and chief of andrology at Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans. Louisiana.
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