Prostate glands — most men have them, but what are they? The National Institutes of Health (NIH) defines the prostate as a gland that makes semen, the fluid that contains sperm. The prostate surrounds the tube that carries urine away from the bladder and out of the body.
The NIH notes that a young man's prostate is about the size of a walnut and slowly grows larger with age. If it gets too large, it can cause problems. This is very common after age 50. The older men get, the more likely they are to have prostate trouble. An enlarged prostate can be caused by cancer, but many men have an enlarged prostate and do not have cancer.
Common prostate health issues
There are a few common prostate issues men experience that are not cancer related. One of the most common is benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). This issue means that the prostate is enlarged but is not cancerous. It is very common in older men. An enlarged prostate may make it very difficult to urinate or cause dribbling after urination. It also causes men to urinate often, especially at night. BPH may be treated in a variety of ways, ranging from the “wait and see” method to surgical intervention.
The National Cancer Institute calls prostate cancer the most common non-skin cancer among men in the United States. The good news about prostate cancer is that although the number of men with prostate cancer is large, most men diagnosed with this disease do not die from it.
There is some debate, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that the following are the most common risk factors for the disease:
- Age – The older a man is, the greater his risk for getting prostate cancer.
- Family history – Certain genes inherited from parents may affect prostate cancer risk. A man with a father, brother or son who has had prostate cancer is two to three times more likely to develop the disease himself.
- Race – Prostate cancer is more common in some racial and ethnic groups than in others, but medical experts do not know why.
Trusted health professionals differ on their recommendations for who should undergo prostate cancer screenings and when. Before considering a screening it is important to talk to a healthcare provider. If a screening is recommended, there are two common options including:
- Digital rectal exam. During this screening a doctor or nurse inserts a gloved, lubricated finger into the rectum to estimate the size of the prostate and feel for lumps or other abnormalities.
- Prostate specific antigen (PSA) test. This test measures the level of PSA in the blood. PSA is a substance made by the prostate. The levels of PSA in the blood can be higher in men who have prostate cancer. The PSA level also may be elevated in other conditions that affect the prostate.
If you would like to know more about prostate health, attend a free presentation, “Getting to Know the Prostate Gland,” by urologist Douglas Klingler of Lawrence Urology, P.A., from 6:30 to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 26, at Lawrence Memorial Hospital. Dr. Klingler will discuss the prostate gland and how it functions. He also will share information about signs, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of common prostate diseases. Space is limited so advance registration is requested. Register online at lmh.org or by calling 749-5800.
Aynsley Anderson, MA, RN, is Community Education Coordinator at Lawrence Memorial Hospital. She can be reached at email@example.com.