A man has symptomatic benign enlargement of the prostate gland. What are his treatment options?
“Prostatic disease eventually affects almost all men; benign prostatic hypertrophy or hyperplasia (BPH) is an inevitable part of aging,” says an article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ June 19, 2007).
Do we need to worry about prostatic hypertrophy or hyperplasia which in simple terms means prostatic enlargement? Sure, we have to worry. Who knows, it could be malignant. Although prostatic enlargement eventually affects almost all aging men, not all men suffer from prostatic cancer. The lifetime risk of diagnosis of prostatic cancer is 18 per cent and death from prostatic cancer is three per cent.
Enlarged prostate gland has several effects. These include difficulty with voiding urine and blood PSA levels may go up. Other complications are urinary retention, urinary bleeding, bladder stones, recurrent urinary tract infections and renal failure. These effects become progressively worse requiring frequent medical attention and rising PSA requires multiple tests to rule out prostate cancer.
About 20 years ago, the standard treatment for benign enlargement of prostate gland was surgery. Now, patients with mild symptoms do not need any treatment. Patients with moderate symptoms are treated with medications. These medications have shown to improve the flow of urine and improve the quality of life. Do these medications prevent complications of BPH? Studies have shown that this is possible.
The two major classes of drugs used to treat BPH are: a) alpha-blockers like doxazosin relax smooth muscle fibers of the bladder neck and prostate gland to reduce prostatic obstruction, b) five- – reductase inhibitors like finasteride decrease levels of testosterone in the prostatic gland itself but do not affect the systemic testosterone level. This leads to reduction of the prostate gland by 20-30 per cent.
With -blockers, patients experience relief of symptom within two weeks of starting the medication, compared with several months with finasteride. Researchers have found that doxazosin and finasteride slowed down the growth of BPH compared with placebo; the combination therapy was significantly more effective than either drug alone.
The CMAJ article says that the Medical Therapy of Prostatic Symptoms study showed that:
-BPH is a progressive disease
-progression can be prevented by medical therapy
-patients at risk for progression can be readily identified by PSA level, prostatic volume and symptom severity
-and the combination of finasteride and doxazosin is more effective than either alone in preventing progression, particularly in high-risk groups.
Are there any side-effects to these medications?
The article says that clinically significant side effects, mainly postural hypotension (low blood pressure), were infrequent and they led to cessation of therapy in 18–27 per cent of the men involved in the study. Side effects that occurred were minor and related mainly to sexual function.
Patients treated with finasteride had significant benefit with improvement in urinary symptoms. There was also an added advantage in that the finasteride-treated patients saw reduction in the overall risk of prostate cancer by 25 per cent – a rate almost unheard of in the field of cancer prevention, says the CMAJ article. The authors of the article say, “Because PSA levels are reduced in men with BPH who are taking finasteride, rising PSA findings are more likely to be caused by prostate cancer. Taking this drug may therefore provide a diagnostic advantage as well.”
The article poses the question: Should selected patients now be offered finasteride to lower their risk of developing prostate cancer and BPH progression?
“The answer, based on these trials, is unequivocally yes,” conclude the authors of the CMAJ article.
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