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April 26, 2016 | Cancer Center • Urology
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Cancer, by definition, is abnormal cell growth that can invade other parts of the body. Most prostate cancers begin in the cells that make and release mucus and other fluids, so this disease usually involves the abnormal growth of these cells.
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men and the second leading cause of death for men in the U.S.
The symptoms are few with this deadly cancer. Early prostate cancer presents with no symptoms and even at the advanced stage, it may only cause a weak urine flow, something most men experience anyway. This is why having the prostate checked regularly is so critical.
The prostate exam allows the doctor to feel for abnormal growths on the gland and surrounding area. Often referred to as a digital rectal exam, it involves the practitioner inserting a gloved finger into the rectum. The doctor may also suggest you get a prostate-specific antigen, PSA, test as part of your screening, especially if cancer runs in your family.
After age 50, it is recommended that you get your prostate checked every year. If you are African-American or there is a history of prostate cancer in your family, yearly screening might start earlier. It takes just a few seconds and is a critical part of maintaining prostate health.
Lifestyle choices are also important for keeping your prostate healthy.
Maintain a healthy weight
Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables
If you are worried about your prostate health or that of someone you love, give us a call. We can answer any questions you might have and set up an appointment for screening.
The Live Better Team
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This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.