Prostate Problems 101
The American Cancer Society (ACS) reports that nearly 200,000 men will be diagnosed with cancer this year, and over 27,000 will die from the disease. The prostate changes as you grow older; however, not all prostate problems are malignant.
What Is the Prostate?
The prostate gland is about the size and shape of a walnut, according to the American Urological Association (AUA). It rests low in the pelvis in front of the rectum and below the bladder, and surrounds the urethra, the tube that leads from the bladder through the penis. The prostate's key function is to produce seminal fluid to nourish sperm and allow it to move through the urethra during ejaculation.
Common Prostate Problems
The prostate grows mainly during puberty and doesn't resume until around age 25 or 30. In their 30s or 40s some men begin to experience problems urinating, which can occur when the growing gland squeezes the urethra. However, it's more likely for this prostate problem to occur in your 50s or later.
For about 50 percent of men changes in this gland can lead to one of three main prostate problems--an infection called prostatitis; an enlarged prostate or benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), or prostate cancer.
Prostatitis: This most common of prostate problems basically means that the prostate becomes inflamed or irritated, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). You may feel a burning sensation when you urinate, have to urinate more often, have a fever, or feel fatigued.
A bacterial infection can be at the root of this prostate problem, which can be easily verified through a urine test. In this situation, antibiotics can wipe out the infection. If your prostatitis isn't caused by an infection, additional tests can identify causes such as a kidney stone or cancer.
When none of these causes are behind prostatitis, the NIDDK recommends working with your doctor to find solutions such as altering your diet, taking warm baths, or taking an alpha-blocker drug to relax muscle tissue in your prostate.
Enlarged prostate or benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH): Also called benign prostatic hypertrophy, this prostate problem rarely surfaces before age 40. Nearly 50 percent of 60-year-olds and about 90 percent of 70 and 80 year-olds have symptoms of BPH. Doctors aren't sure why BPH occurs, but it could be due to hormonal changes as men age.
Benign prostatic hyperplasia occurs because the enlarged prostate squeezes the urethra, which interferes with urine passing from the bladder through the urethra to be excreted. Eventually, this can lead to several problems such as frequent urination, feeling that you need to urinate even when you've just done so, slow or small urine flow, or even blood in your urine.
This prostate problem can lead to kidney damage, so you should consult your doctor. Your doctor will perform a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test to rule out prostate cancer. If cancer isn't in the picture, possible treatment for BPH includes drugs to relax the prostate, surgical procedures such as removing part of the prostate or widening the urethra.
Prostate cancer. Out of all prostate problems, this one tops the worry list. Prostate cancer comes in second behind skin cancer among men in this country, states the National Cancer Institute (NCI). You're more at risk if you're over 65, have a family history, you're African-American or Hispanic-American, or have cells referred to as high-grade prostatic intraepithelial neoplasia (PIN).
Usually there are no symptoms in the early stages, states the NCI. Some prostate cancer symptoms may be similar to BPH, such as frequent or difficult with urinating. Other signs are difficulty getting an erection, blood in your urine or semen, and frequent pain in your lower back, hips or upper thighs. Once you reach 50 you should have an annual prostate-specific antigen test, advises the AUA. If cancer is indicated, you'll also need to undergo a biopsy.
Prostate cancer treatment may mean surgery, radiation or hormone therapy, and chemotherapy. Active surveillance (close monitoring without treatment) may be the best approach in cases of early prostate cancer that is growing slowly, or if you're older or have any other health problem. Prostate cancer treatment is individualized - there's no one size-fits-all approach. The outlook is usually quite good - the five-year survival rate is 100 percent; at 10 years, it's 91 percent.
If you start to experience any of the telltale signs of prostate problems, try not to panic. A visit to the doctor may reveal things aren't as bad as you think.
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