Prostate health awareness is growing in this country as health care reform shifts the focus to preventative medicine. Eight out of 10 men
will eventually develop an enlarged prostate, but only few understand the purpose of this critical gland. Learning more about what a prostate does and why it affects men’s health is the key to understanding its importance.
What is a Prostate?
A prostate is a small gland about the size of a walnut that is an essential part of the male reproductive system. It sits just below the bladder and surrounds a piece of the urethra, a thin tube that carries urine out of the body. Its role is to help make semen for the transfer of sperm during ejaculation.
What Causes Prostate Enlargement?
The prostate goes through two natural growth cycles. The first one occurs during puberty and causes the gland to double in size. The second cycle begins around the age of 25 and continues throughout life. By the time a man turns 40, the gland has gone from the size of a walnut to that of an apricot. By age 60, it might be as big as a lemon. This is known as benign prostatic hyperplasia or BPH.
It is the positioning of the prostate that tends to be problematic. The prostate gland surrounds the tube that allows urine to drain from the bladder. As the prostate grows, it puts pressure on this tube leading to:
• Trouble starting and maintaining a urine stream
• Frequent urination
• The feeling that your bladder is not empty despite having just urinated
• Sudden urge to urinate
For most men, an enlarged prostate is troublesome at best, but BPH is a progressive disease that can lead to complications like kidney or bladder damage.
What is Prostate Cancer?
BPH is a benign or noncancerous condition, but for some men, prostate enlargement is a symptom of a more serious problem. Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men and the second leading cause of death for men in the U.S., according to the National Cancer Institute.
It occurs more often in African-American males and tends to be more deadly for them.