My wife Wendy and I wrote the following as a response to a Father’s Day article in the New York Times.

Gina Kolata published a front page article in today’s (Sunday, 15 June 2008) New York Times entitled “New Take on a Prostate Drug, and a New Debate.” The article is about the use of finasteride as a preventive for prostate cancer.

A new look at a federal study shows that the prophylactic use of finasteride may reduce the incidence of prostate cancer by as much as 30%! As with other drugs used preventively, the debate refers to the use by healthy people of lifelong medications to avoid getting and being treated for a disease, in this case, prostate cancer. At this point, the potential long term side effects are unknown.

Her news is exciting and the article compelling. Unfortunately, Ms. Kolata has fallen into the sad, but very common trap of characterizing prostate cancer as “a cancer that, most often, would be better off undiscovered and untreated.” She wrote, “Prostate cancer is unlike any other cancer because it is relatively slow-growing and while it can kill, it often is not lethal. In fact, most leading specialists say, a major problem is that men are getting screened, discovering they have cancers that may or may not be dangerous, and opt for treatments that can leave them impotent and incontinent.” She either neglected to write or just missed this stark truth: in the United States alone, 28,000 men will die this year from prostate cancer! In our view, 28,000 deaths in one year from one disease is not the description of an indolent disease. The key in her statement is the mention she made, but then ignored, that some prostate cancer is dangerous. While there are statistical models, at this point, there is no way to determine defin