Importance: Two meta-analyses conclude that finasteride treatment of androgenic alopecia (AGA) is safe but do not assess quality of safety reporting.
Objective: To assess safety reporting for clinical trial reports of finasteride for AGA.
Data sources: MEDLINE, ClinicalTrials.gov, and a clinical data repository for an academic medical center.
Study selection: Published clinical trial reports for finasteride treatment of AGA.
Data extraction and synthesis: For each trial, we assessed quality of adverse event reporting, extracted the number and type of adverse events in treatment and placebo groups, and assessed duration of safety evaluation and adequacy of blinding. Two observers independently extracted the data; differences were resolved by consensus. We assessed generalizability in a large cohort of men prescribed finasteride, 1.25 mg/d or less, by assessing for eligibility in the finasteride-AGA pivotal trials.
Main outcomes and measures: Quality was assessed as adequate, partially adequate, inadequate, or no events reported. We used funnel plots of the hazard ratio to assess bias.
Results: Of 34 clinical trials, none had adequate safety reporting, 19 were partially adequate, 12 were inadequate, and 3 reported no adverse events. Funnel plots were asymmetric with a bias toward lower odds ratio for sexual adverse effects, suggesting systematic underdetection. No reports assessed adequacy of blinding, 18 (53%) disclosed conflicts of interest, and 19 (56%) received funding from the manufacturer. Duration of drug safety evaluation was 1 year or less for 26 of 34 trials (76%). Of 5704 men in the clinical data repository who were treated for AGA with finasteride, 1.25 mg/d or less, for AGA, only 31% met inclusion criteria for the pivotal trials referenced in the manufacturer's full prescribing information and 33% took finasteride for more than 1 year.
Conclusions and relevance: Available toxicity information from clinical trials of finasteride in men with AGA is very limited, is of poor quality, and seems to be systematically biased. In a cohort of men prescribed finasteride for routine treatment of AGA, most would have been excluded from the pivotal studies that supported US Food and Drug Administration approval for AGA. Published reports of clinical trials provide insufficient information to establish the safety profile for finasteride in the treatment of AGA.