Propecia, also known as Finasteride, was approved to treat male pattern baldness in the US in 1997. Propecia prevents hair loss by keeping testosterone from shrinking the hair follicles. It is not a permanent fix because any gains will be lost once you stop taking it.
Because Propecia alters the way testosterone works in the body, it can have serious effects on the men that take it.
Patients taking Propecia can experience a variety of unpleasant side effects. In some patients, these side effects never go away. Symptoms can seriously impact a patient’s quality of life and are sometimes fatal.
Side effects include:
- Sexual dysfunction
- Genital pain
- Male breast cancer
- Prostate Cancer
Persistent Propecia symptoms that do not go away after stopping Propecia are called “Post-Finasteride Syndrome,” or PFS.
Sexual Side Effects
In 2012, the FDA added a warning about adverse sexual side effects to the label for Propecia. This followed similar labeling changes to the drug in overseas markets.
Sexual side effects of Propecia can include:
- Decreased desire for sex
- Inability to get an erection
- Difficulty having orgasms
- Genital pain
- Shrinkage of the genitals
The severity of the symptoms can range from mild and temporary to severe and permanent. Some men recover sexual function after stopping Propecia. Others never see improvement. They never regain their sex lives or their confidence.
Male Breast Cancer
One possible side effect of using Propecia is an increase in male breast tissue, or gynecomastia. While this is usually embarrassing, it is also fatal in some men. Gynecomastia is a risk factor for male breast cancer, and as a result taking Propecia increases a man’s risk of getting male breast cancer.
Male breast cancer is very similar to female breast cancer in prognosis and treatment. Fortunately, breast cancer is well researched and can be treated with surgery, chemotherapy, and hormone therapy. If the cancer is caught early enough, it can be treated with good results.
However, male breast cancer is often discovered later because it is very rare. Men do not expect to get breast cancer. As a result, male breast cancer patients are often diagnosed at a more advanced cancer stage and that negatively affects treatment outcomes.
Propecia also raises the risk of depression in men that take it. Depression can be a result of the sexual side effects of Propecia, but studies have shown that Propecia can also cause depression in men independently of sexual side effects.
Merck added the risk of depression to Propecia’s labeling in 2010, over ten years after Propecia’s entrance into the US market. Men who took Propecia before 2010 did not know that depression and anxiety were a risk of taking Propecia.
One effect of taking Propecia is a decrease in prostate size. Some patients take Propecia or Proscar, another formulation of finasteride, specifically to reduce prostate size and the uncomfortable symptoms that can accompany a swollen prostate.
Clinical trials have shown conflicting results on whether or not Propecia increases the total risk for getting prostate cancer. However, studies have demonstrated that men who take Propecia and are diagnosed with prostate cancer are usually diagnosed at a later stage. This may be because Propecia’s effects on the prostate make it more difficult to diagnose prostate cancer.
The Makers of Propecia
Propecia is made by Merck & Co, Inc. Merck is one of the top ten biggest pharmaceutical companies in the world, and has made billions of dollars on the sale of Propecia.
Merck did not warn consumers that the side effect of Propecia could be permanent. Even after several European governments required changes to Propecia’s labeling in those countries, Merck refused to change American labeling for the product.
Merck knew Propecia could damage men permanently, but did not warn American consumers about the dangers until August 2012. Men who took Propecia in the 15 years before the labeling change had no idea their sex lives, mental health, and confidence could be destroyed forever.