7 Things You Need to Know About the Prostate And Prostate Health
(Read time: 8 minutes)
This article is not intended to replace professional medical care or advice. If you have any questions or need additional information, please talk with your doctor.
The prostate is essential to male reproductive health. Prostate cancer is a type of cancer that occurs in the prostate and is one of the most common types of cancer in men.
Because prostate issues (not just cancer) are so common, it’s important that everyone knows the facts about the prostate, not just men afflicted with prostate cancer. All men should be familiar with the warning signs of prostate problems so they can address them early with their physician. Likewise, families should be aware of the basic facts so they can offer support and assist with treatment decisions.
Here are some of the most important things you need to know about the prostate and prostate health.
1. Anatomy of the prostate
The prostate is a gland of the male reproductive and urinary systems located between the bladder and the penis and just in front of the rectum. Its size is comparable to a chestnut and is conical in shape.
Throughout young adulthood, the prostate gland does not typically undergo any significant change. But as men enter middle age, the prostate starts to grow larger. While this enlarging of the prostate is usually benign, it can affect prostate function over time and cause other symptoms that may disrupt your lifestyle.
2. Function of the prostate
The prostate gland plays a role in two important systems in a man’s body: the urinary system and the reproductive system.
In the urinary system, the prostate sits between the bladder and the penis. And the urethra, the hose that drains the bladder, runs through the middle of the prostate and then along the length of the penis.
A healthy prostate does not affect the function of the urethra, but an enlarged or swollen prostate can compress the urethra or irritate the walls of the bladder, interfering with normal urination.
In the reproductive system, the prostate produces the seminal fluid for semen, which transports sperm, and the muscles of the prostate propel this fluid through the urethra and out of the body during ejaculation.
A healthy prostate is important for healthy semen, which must have the right consistency and environment for sperm to pass through and survive. Semen contains proteins like Prostate-Specific Antigens (PSA); zinc, citrate, and fructose, which give the sperm energy to journey to the egg; and antibodies that protect the sperm from bacteria and pathogens.
The prostate gland typically starts to grow during puberty and adolescence due to the male hormone testosterone and its byproduct dihydrotestosterone (DHT). After adolescence, the prostate will not usually undergo any changes until middle age, when it can begin to enlarge due to various conditions.
3. Conditions that may affect the prostate
Prostate issues can vary in terms of both frequency and severity.
Prostatitis, or an inflammation of the prostate, is usually caused by a bacterial infection. Often times, this condition can be treated with antibiotics. Sometimes, however, it can be a chronic condition or it can be caused by things other than bacteria, like pelvic trauma.
Another prostate condition is Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH), commonly referred to as an “enlarged prostate”. BPH occurs when a prostate grows to an unhealthy size, and a man’s chance of developing this condition increases with age.
Prostate cancer is one of the most common cancers in men, and about 1 in 9 will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime. While 1 in 41 men who are diagnosed will die from this disease, the good news is, if detected early, localized prostate cancer is generally associated with a high survival rate.
No matter which condition you may have, early detection can be very helpful. But first, you need to know which signs and symptoms to watch out for.
4. Signs and symptoms to look out for
It’s important to know which signs and symptoms may indicate a problem with your prostate. None of these conditions necessarily mean you have an issue with your prostate and may reflect an entirely different issue altogether.
Regardless of the case, it’s important to see a medical professional if you experience any of the following:
- Frequent urination, especially at night
- Weak or interrupted urine flow
- Blood in urine or seminal fluid
- Onset of erectile dysfunction
- Discomfort when sitting due to enlarged prostate
- Pain or burning during urination
Remember, a doctor can be your best bet to determine if these symptoms require treatment. It’s important to get checked, as these symptoms could be characteristic of a severe medical condition. Symptoms could also point to a condition that could be treated with a single prescription for antibiotics.
Regardless of the case, if you have any of these symptoms, a visit to the doctor could save your life or your lifestyle down the road.
5. What genetics and age mean for prostate health
Family history and age both play a role in your prostate health and your likelihood to develop prostate conditions.
Johns Hopkins found that there may be a strong genetic component to BPH. For example, it’s less prevalent in Asian countries and much more common in the West, especially amongst black men. Also, there seems to be a strong hereditary component with men who get BPH earlier than age 65. Their male relatives are four times more likely to require BPH surgery. For their brothers, their risk is six times greater than the average person.
The hereditary component is also true for prostate cancer. Although family history alone is not a deciding factor, prostate cancer is highly inheritable. The inherited risk is estimated at 60%, with familial clustering frequently reported.
Along with family history, age is an important risk factor for prostate cancer. While prostate cancer is rarely diagnosed in men under 40, diagnosis rates increase rapidly with each passing decade. By age 70, the probability of being diagnosed with prostate cancer is 1 in 13.
6. Natural ways to improve prostate health
While genetics and age are risk factors beyond your control, there are some natural ways to boost prostate health over the course of your lifetime.
As with many other health conditions, regular exercise may be beneficial to prostate health. A recent study of 30,000 men found an inverse relationship between regular exercise and BPH symptoms, which means the more active men in the study suffered less from BPH.
And while there is no magic food that will prevent prostate cancer, healthy eating can certainly improve prostate health. Experts recommend eating five servings of fruits and vegetables every day, limiting consumption of red meat, sugar, and salt, and choosing whole grains and healthy fats over less healthy ones, such as trans fats.
7. Prostate treatment options and side effects
With its close proximity to the bowel, urinary, and reproductive systems, any treatment of the prostate can affect the organs and tissues around it.
For example, an enlarged prostate due to BPH can obstruct or place pressure on the urethra. Treatments that affect the surrounding nerves and muscles can compromise bladder function. Surgery might damage important nerve endings, creating problems with urinary and sexual function.
Because of this, alternatives for treating BPH, like Rezum, are available. Rezum uses minimally invasive transurethral vapor therapy to help minimize the effect of BPH on sexual function. Or there’s Greenlight, a laser-based treatment that is found to have less frequent complications than surgical procedures.
As another example, the prostate and rectum are anatomically adjacent. As a result, prostate cancer patients who receive radiation therapy targeting the prostate can experience damage to the rectum and surrounding organs, sometimes causing pain and discomfort.
Fortunately, when considering a treatment option like radiation, there are pre-treatment options to consider such as SpaceOAR Hydrogel, which may help to reduce radiation exposure to the rectum during treatment, potentially minimizing the side effects of radiation treatment.
Other treatment options include surgery, radiation, hormone therapy, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, bisphosphonate therapy, cryotherapy, high-intensity focused ultrasound, and the prostate cancer vaccine. The most conservative prostate cancer treatment is active surveillance or waiting to see how the cancer develops before choosing a treatment.
While you may not be able to control whether or not you develop prostate cancer, you can choose to learn as much as possible. Knowledge is power, and with more treatment options available than ever before, you can work with your doctor to decide the best treatment based on your age, tumor size, and lifestyle.
Better options, better health
While there are several unfortunate conditions that can impact the health of your prostate, the good news is that treatments for conditions like prostate cancer and BPH are constantly improving.
Meanwhile, complications like urinary and sexual dysfunction are becoming more manageable, even preventable in some cases, meaning a better quality of life for more patients.
Physicians are constantly finding new ways to lower the risk of potential side effects of prostate treatment that are caused by the prostate’s anatomy and location within the body.
If you are ready to start a conversation with your doctor about your prostate health and risks, please use our FREE discussion guide.