is a drug used to treat hair loss in men. It is an oral medication, taken once a day, and available on prescription. It is prescribed to stimulate hair growth in men with male pattern baldness.
Propecia’s active ingredient is finasteride, and it was originally developed to treat a condition which causes enlarged prostate glands (benign prostatic hyperplasia).
Finasteride works by reducing dihydrotestosterone (DHT) levels in the scalp. The hormone DHT contributes to male pattern baldness, and Propecia medication helps to reverse the hair loss process by decreasing the effect of DHT on the hair follicles.
It takes around three months to see any results from using Propecia. It is recommended for men over the age of 18 only and must not be taken by women.
Millions of patients take Propecia with no side effects, or minimal and reversible side effects.
What side effects does Propecia cause?
Common ( affecting 1/100 people) side effects are:
- erectile dysfunction
- a reduction in libido (sex drive)
- decreased volume of ejaculate
These side effects usually disappear when you stop taking the drug.
The frequency of the following side effects of Propecia is not known:
- breast swelling or tenderness
- changes in liver function (this can be shown by a blood test)
- testicle pain
- male infertility
- poor sperm quality
It has been reported that sexual side effects of Propecia including erectile dysfunction, a lowering of libido and and ejaculation problems may continue after you have stopped taking the drug, although this is rare according to studies. If you have any concerns, speak to your doctor.
Can it have permanent sexual side effects?
There is as yet no conclusive evidence that demonstrates that the reported sexual side effects of propecia such as loss of libido and erectile dysfunction are long lasting.
In 2012, the American Food and Drink Organisation (FDA) announced that warnings on the labels about the drug’s possible sexual side effects after use has stopped must be included. This was because the FDA had received many reports of side effects including ‘libido disorders, ejaculation disorders, and orgasm disorders’ that continued after stopping use of the drug.
However, a link between propecia and these long term sexual side effects has not yet been confirmed.
Is there a link between Propecia and prostate cancer?
It has been reported that taking finasteride, the active ingredient in Propecia, might be linked to prostate cancer. A decade ago, a study called the Prostate Cancer Prevention Trial (PCPT) suggested that finasteride might decrease the risk of low-grade prostate cancer but may increase the risk of high-grade prostate cancer.
However, a 2015 study into whether there is a link between finasteride and prostate cancer risk found that there was ‘no association between finasteride concentrations and prostate cancer risk, low-grade or high-grade’.
If you are taking Propecia and have any concerns about your risk of prostate cancer, talk to your doctor.
Does Propecia cause breast enlargement or breast cancer?
Male breast enlargement (gynaecomastia) has been reported by some men using Propecia and there have been rare reports of breast cancer developing while taking the drug.
In December 2009, the UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) completed a review on the risk of breast cancer in men taking finasteride (not just for hair loss). The report found that an increased risk of male breast cancer associated with finasteride use ‘cannot be excluded’. The patient information leaflets for all products containing finasteride were then updated to warn of this possible side effect.
There have however been no cases of male breast cancer associated with Propecia reported in the UK to date. Most of the findings in the MHRA report relate to another product called proscar which contains much more finasteride than Propecia.
Can it cause birth defects?
Propecia must not be taken or handled by women as it may cause genital birth defects in male babies. It must not be handled by pregnant women or those planning to become pregnant. This is because it is a medication with an active ingredient that affects the body’s hormonal system.
Propecia tablets are coated so during normal handling the active ingredient can’t touch or penetrate the skin as long as the tablet isn’t broken. If a woman comes into contact with a crushed propecia tablet, they should immediately wash their hands thoroughly.