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What every man should know about his prostate

What do only men have, that’s the size of a walnut and helps produce semen? The answer is a prostate gland. Up to one in three men have symptoms related to their prostate gland at some point in their lives. But how much do you know about your prostate?

Chances are, you may not think about your prostate gland until you have problem with it. To help you look after your prostate health, we take a look at some of the most important things you need to know about your prostate.

Your prostate gland lies at the base of your bladder. It surrounds part of the tube that you pass urine and semen through, called the urethra.

An image showing the position of the prostate gland and surrounding structures

Details

  • What does it do? What does it do?

    Your prostate gland is important for reproduction. It’s main job is to produce the liquid part of semen. It also produces prostate specific antigen (PSA), which is a protein that’s involved in turning your semen into liquid. The way your prostate gland works and grows is dependent on the male sex hormone, testosterone.

  • What changes should I look out for? What changes should I look out for?

    Because your prostate surrounds your urethra, if you have a problem with your prostate it’s likely to affect the way you pass urine.

    You may:

    • find it difficult to pass urine, for example straining or taking a long time
    • notice a weak flow of urine
    • feel that your bladder has not emptied fully
    • have a sudden urge or frequent need to pass urine

    In men, the most common cause of these symptoms is an enlarged prostate, which can obstruct the flow of urine. Other causes of prostate problems include prostatitis and prostate cancer. Here, we give you the low-down about some of the most common problems that can affect your prostate.

  • Worried about prostate cancer?

    Get a picture of your current health and potential future health risks with a Bupa health assessment. Find out more today.

  • Enlarged prostate Enlarged prostate

    An enlarged prostate, also known as benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), is caused by an increase in the number of cells in your prostate gland. Symptoms can include a weak flow of urine, a more frequent or urgent need to urinate and feeling that your bladder hasn’t emptied completely. Having an enlarged prostate doesn’t mean you have cancer, nor does is it mean you’re at greater risk of prostate cancer.

    For some men, an enlarged prostate may only cause mild symptoms and won't affect your quality of life. However, some men may need to take medicines to help control their symptoms. If your symptoms are very severe, your doctor may suggest you have an operation to remove part of your prostate gland.

  • Prostatitis Prostatitis

    Prostatitis is a general term to explain an infection of your prostate gland. There are different types of prostatitis that can cause a variety of different symptoms, including:

    • pain and discomfort in your genital area
    • an urgent or frequent need to pass urine
    • a fever that has suddenly developed

    Prostatitis can be treated in different ways depending on the type you have. Your doctor may offer you some antibiotics to help clear up any bacterial infection that might be causing your prostatitis. If these don’t help, he or she may offer you other medicines, such as alpha-blockers, to help relax the muscle fibres around your prostate gland.

  • Prostate cancer Prostate cancer

    Prostate cancer is a lump (tumour) caused by cells in your prostate gland growing in an uncontrolled way. It differs from other cancers because small areas of cancer within your prostate are actually quite common but might stay inactive for many years.

    Prostate cancer mainly affects men over 65. It can affect younger men, but this is uncommon. You’re more likely to get it if your father or brother has had it, or if you’re black African-Caribbean. Symptoms may include difficulties urinating, lower back pain and blood in your urine. Some prostate cancers grow slowly, and might not need treatment. Others grow more quickly, and may need treatment. Your treatments will depend on whether your cancer has spread, the risk of side-effects and your own personal views. These may include close monitoring, hormonal therapy, surgery, radiotherapy or chemotherapy.

  • Diagnosing prostate problems Diagnosing prostate problems

    If you have any symptoms of prostate problems, you should contact your doctor – no matter how old you are. If your doctor thinks your symptoms need investigating, he or she may advise you to have some tests, which can include the following.

    • A physical examination – this usually involves a digital rectal examination to check the size and feel of your prostate.
    • Urine tests or flow rate tests – to check for any infection and the speed at which you pass urine.
    • An ultrasound examination – to check if your bladder is emptying completely.
    • A PSA test. This is a blood test that looks at the level of PSA in your blood. Although it’s normal to have small amounts of PSA in your blood, you may have a problem with your prostate if your levels are raised. Having a raised PSA might be a sign of prostate cancer, but this is not always the case. Other factors such as vigorous exercise or urinary infection can also raise your PSA. If you’ve been offered this test, it’s important to talk to your doctor about the pros and cons. He or she will be able to help you make a decision that is right for you.
  • How to keep your prostate healthy How to keep your prostate healthy

    There’s a lot of research looking into how prostate problems can be prevented. In particular, researchers are investigating how lifestyle factors, such as diet, can affect your risk of getting prostate cancer. Some studies suggest that making changes to your diet can reduce your risk of developing the condition, while others do not. One study found that drinking green tea and eating a diet rich in certain vegetables such as tomatoes and soy, could lower your risk. However, this evidence is limited. More research is needed to be certain of how effective eating and drinking certain food and drink may be in preventing prostate cancer.

    Although there’s no one sure thing that can reduce your risk of prostate problems, eating a healthy diet and taking regular exercise may help. And if you haven’t already – stop smoking. Finally, don’t put off seeing your doctor if you’re worried about your health. Getting it checked out can help give you peace of mind. And if any treatments are recommended, your doctor will be able to help you make a decision that’s right for you.

  • Resources Resources

    Further information

    Sources

    • Pocock G, Richards CD, Richards DA. Human Physiology. 4th ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press; 2013:658 ̶ 63
    • Know your prostate. Prostate Cancer UK. www.prostatecanceruk.org, published January 2013
    • Prostate symptoms. The British Association of Urological Surgeons. www.baus.org.uk, accessed 27 January 2014
    • About the prostate. Prostate Cancer Foundation. www.pcf.org, accessed 29 January 2014
    • The prostate. Macmillan Cancer Support. www.macmillan.org.uk, reviewed 1 May 2012
    • Lower urinary tract symptoms. The management of lower urinary tract symptoms in men. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), 19 May 2010. www.nice.org.uk
    • Enlarged prostate. A guide to diagnosis and treatment. Prostate Cancer UK. www.prostatecanceruk.org, published January 2013
    • Prostatitis ̶ acute. NICE Clinical Knowledge Summaries. cks.nice.org.uk, reviewed February 2009
    • Prostatitis ̶ chronic. NICE Clinical Knowledge Summaries. cks.nice.org.uk, reviewed February 2009
    • Joint Formulary Committee. British National Formulary (online) London: BMJ group and Pharmaceutical Press. www.medicinescomplete.com, accessed 27 January 2014
    • Understanding the PSA test. A guide for men concerned about prostate cancer. Prostate Cancer UK. www.prostatecanceruk.org, published July 2012
    • What is prostate cancer? Prostate Cancer Foundation. www.pcf.org, accessed 27 January 2014
    • Prostate cancer. Macmillan Cancer Support. www.macmillan.org.uk , reviewed 1 May 2012
    • Prostate cancer. Diagnosis and treatment. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), 2011. www.nice.org.uk 
    • Simon C, Everitt H, van Dorp F. Prostate cancer. Oxford handbook of general practice. 3rd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010:468 ̶ 9 (printed version)
    • Prostate cancer. NICE Clinical Knowledge Summaries. cks.nice.org.uk, published January 2011
    • PSA (prostate specific antigen) testing for prostate cancer. NHS Cancer Screening programmes. www.cancerscreening.nhs.uk, accessed 30 January 2014
    • Boehm K, Borrelli F, Ernst E. Green tea (Camellia sinensis) for the prevention of cancer. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2009, Issue 3. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD005004.pub2
    • Ilic D, Forbes KM, Hassed C. Lycopene for the prevention of prostate cancer. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2011, Issue 11. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD008007.pub2
    • Kushi LH, Doyle C, McCullough M et al. American Cancer Society guidelines on nutrition and physical activity for cancer prevention. CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, 2012; 62(1):30 ̶ 67. doi:10.3322/caac.20140
    • Huncharek M, Haddock SK, Reid R et al. Smoking as a risk factor for prostate cancer: a meta-analysis of 24 prospective cohort studies. American Journal of Public Health, 2010; 100(4):693 ̶ 701. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2008.150508
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