The 5alpha-reductase inhibitor finasteride blocks the conversion of testosterone to dihydrotestosterone (DHT), the androgen responsible for male pattern hair loss (androgenetic alopecia) in genetically predisposed men. Results of phase III clinical studies in 1879 men have shown that oral finasteride 1 mg/day promotes hair growth and prevents further hair loss in a significant proportion of men with male pattern hair loss. Evidence suggests that the improvement in hair count reported after 1 year is maintained during 2 years' treatment. In men with vertex hair loss, global photographs showed improvement in hair growth in 48% of finasteride recipients at 1 year and in 66% at 2 years compared with 7% of placebo recipients at each time point. Furthermore, hair counts in these men showed that 83% of finasteride versus 28% of placebo recipients had no further hair loss compared with baseline after 2 years. The clinical efficacy of oral finasteride has not yet been compared with that of topical minoxidil, the only other drug used clinically in patients with male pattern hair loss. Therapeutic dosages of finasteride are generally well tolerated. In phase III studies, 7.7% of patients receiving finasteride 1 mg/day compared with 7.0% of those receiving placebo reported treatment-related adverse events. The overall incidence of sexual function disorders, comprising decreased libido, ejaculation disorder and erectile dysfunction, was significantly greater in finasteride than placebo recipients (3.8 vs 2.1%). All sexual adverse events were reversed on discontinuation of therapy and many resolved in patients who continued therapy. No other drug-related events were reported with an incidence > or =1% in patients receiving finasteride. Most events were of mild to moderate severity. Oral finasteride is contraindicated in pregnant women because of the risk of hypospadias in male fetuses.
Conclusions: Oral finasteride promotes scalp hair growth and prevents further hair loss in a significant proportion of men with male pattern hair loss. With its generally good tolerability profile, finasteride is a new approach to the management of this condition, for which treatment options are few. Its role relative to topical minoxidil has yet to be determined.