Propecia: Is it dangerous to women?
What is it?
Chances are, you've seen the commercials for Propecia, the newest
treatment for male-pattern baldness. Along with all the glowing
testimony from men who say it has changed their lives comes a
warning that it is for men only and that women should not even touch
the tablets. Sounds pretty scary, doesn't it? You may have nightmares
about waking up one morning with two heads if your husband even
brings the stuff into the house. Well, worry no longer. The truth about
Propecia is here.
Propecia, chemical name finasteride, is produced by Merck and was
cleared by the FDA in late 1997 for sale in the U.S. It is available only
by prescription to male patients.
How does it work?
Propecia works by blocking the conversion of testosterone to an
alternative form of testosterone called dihydro-testosterone (DHT), a
chemical found in the hair follicles that may block hair growth. A study
conducted by Merck found that hair follicles on bald skin contained
more DHT than hair follicles on hairy skin. This is the basis for using
Propecia. If testosterone can be blocked from being converted into
DHT, this may help hair follicles to produce hair.
Should women be concerned?
When tested on rats, Propecia caused birth defects in male fetuses
when a very large amount of Propecia was administered to the rats
(about 5 to 5,000 times the dose recommended for humans). Propecia
caused abnormalities in the genitalia of male fetuses when the
pregnant mother underwent exposure. In male fetuses the conversion
of testosterone to DHT is needed to form their male organs. The defect
is called hypospadis. That is when the urethra opens onto the
undersurface of the penis, instead of the end. This is the basis for all
the warnings to women about staying far away from Propecia. The
concern is that just slight exposure may harm a male fetus.
As a result of these studies, women are warned not to use this drug to
treat baldness, whether or not they are pregnant. Women are warned
against touching broken or crushed tablets of Propecia, as there is the
remote possibility that they may absorb some of the active ingredient
into their system. To guard against such problems, the tablets have a
coating on them, so as long as the tablet is whole, it is unlikely that a
woman will be putting her unborn child in danger.
The main concern about women being exposed to this drug is that they
may be pregnant, even if they do not think they are. Contact with this
drug will not harm future fetuses. It is as yet unknown if Finasteride
(the active ingredient in Propecia) can be passed to a baby via the
mother's milk, so it is a good idea to steer clear of it not just during
pregnancy, but also while breast feeding.
The Bottom Line
In short, you do not need to be overly concerned that something awful
will happen to you if you are within a mile of Propecia tablets. However,
keep in mind that caution is a good policy.