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New Treatment For Prostate Cancer

Aired June 24, 2003 - 19:17   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Well, there's news today of a potential medical breakthrough. Scientists say a drug used to fight baldness also can be used to reduce the risk of prostate cancer. But there are some drawbacks you know about.
Christy Feig has the story.


CHRISTY FEIG, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): More than 220,000 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer this year. And the American Cancer Society says almost 30,000 of them will die. There's no sure way to prevent it until now.

DR. LESLIE FORD, NATIONAL CANCER INSTITUTE: It's the first time we've been able to demonstrate that we actually can reduce the number -- or the number of cases of prostate cancer.

FEIG: The drug is called Finasteride, also known as Propecia or Proscar. It's already used in the U.S. for treating enlarged prostate and baldness. Researchers stopped a 10-year study with almost 19,000 men early because results looked so promising.

FORD: There was a 25 percent decrease in the number of prostate cancers in the men that took Finasteride vs. placebo.

FEIG: But when men in the study on Finasteride did develop a cancer, researchers say it could be more aggressive. They aren't sure why.

FORD: It's very important that we continue to follow the men who develop prostate cancer to see if their tumors behave more aggressively or just happen to look different under the microscope.

FEIG: But they say that isn't necessarily a reason to avoid the treatment. And doctors don't plan to.

DR. NABIL KHAWAND, WASHINGTON HOSPITAL CENTER: I will offer it to the patient. I will tell him what's out there. I will tell him the result of the study. And I will give him the option.

FEIG: Experts agree patients should be the ones to weigh the pros of prostate cancer prevention with the cons of knowing, if the cancer does show up, it could be more aggressive, and then decide if Finasteride is right for them.

In Washington, I'm Christy Feig.


COOPER: Well, we should point out that Finasteride was actually first developed to shrink enlarged prostates and, by accident, was found to help grow hair for some men, now the turnabout with today's news that, in certain cases, it actually may help prevent prostate cancer. So how important a development is this?

Let's get to the bottom line. Dr. Leonard Marks, a UCLA associate professor and the medical director of the Urological Sciences Research Foundation, joins us now from Los Angeles.

Doctor, thanks for being with us.

How big a story in this?

DR. LEONARD MARKS, UCLA: I think this is a very big story. I think this is a very big day for men's health.

We've been waiting seven years for the results of this study. And now the blind is broken. And a few things to remember about this study is that the drug appears to work, 25 percent risk reduction in prostate cancer over the seven years of this study. This is not a commercial study.

COOPER: But it's confusing, though, because, on the one hand, there's that good news about the reduction. But then there's sort of this more ambiguous news about possibly more aggressive form of cancer in some of the men taking it. What do you make of that?

MARKS: I this that last point is a relatively small part of the whole story. And the reason for that is not clear yet. The numbers are small. It may be the effect of the drug itself in reducing the androgen supply to the prostate that leads to the discovery of these funny tumors. But I think the fact that the risk reduction is there, that this was not a commercial study -- this was a study done by the National Cancer Institute -- gives us something to use for these men with -- at risk of prostate cancer with elevated PSA.

COOPER: So, a patient comes to you and says they're thinking about this. What would you tell them?

MARKS: I think it is a reasonable approach for a man at risk. We have got to keep in mind, this is a research study. This was only men 55 years of age or older with a PSA of less than 3.0 when they entered the study. But I think it's a good option. It's the only option now proven to work in a study like this.

COOPER: Now, you say a man at risk. Should I be taking this?

MARKS: What's your PSA?

COOPER: I don't know. But I'm 36. Should anyone be taking this or it's only people in a certain group? MARKS: The study applied to men over the age of 55. I think there are certain high-risk groups. African-American men are at higher risk than Caucasian men. I think men with family history of prostate cancer are at particular risk of this. Those are two groups where the consideration should be especially high.

COOPER: All right, Dr. Leonard Marks, appreciate you joining us. Thanks very much.

MARKS: Thank you.


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