Although the term “prostate” is familiar to most, many have limited awareness of the anatomy and common conditions involving the prostate gland. It may be helpful to learn about the role the prostate plays in the male reproductive system and health issues related to the prostate such as an enlarged prostate and prostate cancer.
What Is the Prostate?
The prostate is a walnut-sized gland that surrounds the urethra and produces fluid for semen in the male reproductive system. The prostate can naturally grow as men age. This common condition is called enlarged prostate, or benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). In fact, over 40% of men in their 50s have BPH, and this number steadily increases with age – nearly 90% of men in their 80s have BPH.
Dr. David Wilkinson, a Teleflex Physician Proctor with over 20 years of experience as a practicing urologist, says, “Men go in for consultations and are not familiar with how their anatomy can change as they age. When men enter their mid-forties, it’s important they clearly understand their prostate health to ensure they are seeking care when they need it most.”
Being attuned to your body and having regular health screenings at the doctor’s office is essential for overall prostate health. However, men often ignore bothersome urinary symptoms, assuming they’re simply a part of aging, and neglect seeking help.
Prostate Cancer Versus an Enlarged Prostate
BPH and prostate cancer are the two most common prostate health conditions,1 but BPH is much more prevalent than prostate cancer.2,3 It’s important to learn the differences between the two, since each condition requires distinct treatments and care.
BPH occurs when the prostate gland gets larger, which may put pressure on and block the urethra. This can lead to bothersome urinary symptoms, such as a frequent or urgent need to urinate, hesitancy or straining during urination, weak urine flow, or a burning or painful sensation when urinating.4,5 BPH is noncancerous, but if left untreated, it can lead to permanent bladder damage,6 which can cause difficulty urinating, urinary tract infections, and in extreme cases, bladder stones or even the ongoing need for a catheter.7
Aside from skin cancer, prostate cancer is the most common cancer in U.S. men; the American Cancer Society estimates that over 280,000 new cases will be diagnosed this year.2 Some men with prostate cancer may have no symptoms, and others may have symptoms similar to BPH, such as pain or burning during urination.1 Some other symptoms of prostate cancer may include blood in the urine or semen, and persistent pain in the back, hips, or pelvis.1 If prostate cancer is not diagnosed and treated, it can spread to other parts of the body and become deadly.
“It’s important to note that men can have both BPH and prostate cancer at the same time – it’s not necessarily one or the other,” said Dr. Wilkinson.
Getting on the Right Track
If you’re 45 or older, it’s important to schedule regular visits to the urologist to assess your prostate and bladder health. The urologist may order a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test, which measures PSA blood levels and can help screen for prostate cancer. They may also use a brief quiz to assess urinary symptoms associated with BPH and conduct other diagnostic tests such as cystoscopy. This common test, which takes about five minutes, can be used to determine if a patient has BPH.
Michael Leventhal, executive director of the Men’s Health Network says, “Men are notorious for putting off important health screenings, especially for areas that they might view as embarrassing like urinary health. If you are a man entering your mid-forties, don’t hesitate to schedule an appointment with a urologist. It’s important that men are advocating for their well-being and making time to take care of themselves.”
Keeping Communication Channels Open
Teleflex conducted a survey of 1,000 men with at least one or more urinary symptoms.8 Startlingly, 73% of men admitted they rarely, if ever, discuss men’s health conditions with younger generations in their families. This lack of communication can leave men unaware of possible solutions and feeling powerless when dealing with common men’s health conditions. Options like the UroLift™ System are available to help alleviate symptoms and allow men to get back to their daily activities quickly via a same-day procedure that can be performed in the office setting.9
“Along with men scheduling appointments for themselves, I always encouraged my patients to have conversations with their younger family members. Prostate cancer is more prevalent in men with family members who have had it before.10 It’s time for men to have open conversations with health care providers and their families about their health,” said Dr. Wilkinson.
Use the physician locator to find a urologist in your area and schedule an appointment to assess your bladder and prostate health.