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A prostate cancer medical slide.

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A class of drugs meant to improve symptoms of an enlarged prostate gland actually increase the chance of getting a more serious form of prostate cancer, U.S. health officials said on Thursday.

However, they also said the drugs' benefits outweigh the risks.

The drugs in the group include Merck & Co's Proscar and GlaxoSmithKline's Avodar and Jalyn, as well as Merck's Propecia, which is approved to treat male pattern hair loss.

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The Food and Drug Administration said it revised the labels on all such drugs, called 5-alpha reductase inhibitors (5-ARI), to include the risk after reviewing two large studies.

The randomized controlled studies found that daily use of 5-ARIs for several years decreased the chance of getting lower-risk forms of prostate cancer but made it more likely that patients would get a high-grade prostate cancer, which grows and spreads more quickly.

"This risk appears to be low, but health-care professionals should be aware of this safety information, and weigh the known benefits against the potential risks when deciding to start or continue treatment with 5-ARIs in men," the FDA said on its website.

The 5-ARI drugs are known clinically as finasteride and dutasteride and are used to treat benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), or prostate enlargement, a common condition in men over 40. Propecia, for male baldness, includes a smaller dose of finasteride.

The FDA said about five million male patients were given a prescription for a 5-ARI from 2002 to 2009. The drugs' benefits in treating BPH still outweigh any risks, it said.

Another class of medicines known as alpha-blockers can also be used to treat symptoms of BPH. Drugs of this type include Astellas Pharma's Flomax, Pfizer Inc's Cardura, and Rapaflo from Watson Pharmaceuticals.

Reuters

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