August 31, 2012 — Some of the world’s leading sexual health experts have met to discuss the long-lasting, potentially permanent sexual side effects of Propecia and Proscar (finasteride). Dr. Arthur Burnett, of Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, is the president of the Sexual Medicine Society of North America. At the World Meeting on Sexual Medicine, which met in Chicago earlier this week, Dr. Burnett said discussion about the sexual side effects of finasteride is one of the highlights of the meeting.
Dr. Burnett noted that there is growing public concern about the persistent sexual side effects of Propecia, especially in the media, and said that there is “a lot of controversy” over the long-lasting sexual side effects that persist after Propecia is discontinued. He said there is still no consensus on what should be done to help men with these side effects, which is why it’s important for doctors to discuss the issue. Dr. Burnett said that there are new therapies for erectile dysfunction in development, but said they are all in “early stages of development.”
In April 2012, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ordered label updates for Propecia and Proscar. The updates expanded the list of persistent sexual side effects of these medications. The label on Propecia was expanded to include persistent disorders of libido, ejaculation, and orgasm, in addition to persistent erectile dysfunction. The label on Proscar was also updated include information about persistent libido disorders.
A recent study has also raised concern about the duration of “persistent” sexual dysfunction, which could be permanent in some cases. Dr. Michael Irwig of George Washington University conducted a study of men who reported sexual dysfunction for at least three months. He found that nearly all of these men still had symptoms after one year, and 20% reported symptoms persisting for at least six years. Although Dr. Irwig admitted the study had a strong sampling bias, it raises concern about the long-term effects of Propecia.
Merck, the company that manufactures Propecia and Proscar, is now facing lawsuits filed by men who allege that they never would have used the medications if they had known the full extent of sexual dysfunction and other serious side effects. In addition to sexual dysfunction, long-term side effects of finasteride may include psychological disorders and physical disfigurement, which do not resolve when finasteride is discontinued.