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Prostate Health

The prostate gland isn't big—about the size of a walnut—but its location virtually guarantees problems if something goes awry. The prostate gland is located just below the bladder and in front of the rectum. It also wraps around the upper part of the urethra, the tube that carries urine from the bladder out of the body. That means prostate problems can affect urination and sexual function.

The prostate is prone to three main conditions: Prostatitis: infection or inflammation of the prostate; Benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH): aging-related enlargement of the prostate gland; and Prostate cancer: the growth of cancerous cells inside the prostate, which may break out of the gland and affect other parts of the body.

 

Prostate function - What does my prostate do?

Your prostate plays a key role in reproduction. Although it’s the testicles that produce sperm, the prostate (along with tiny neighboring organs called seminal vesicles) helps produce semen—the viscous fluid in which sperm travel.  

Here’s what happens when you ejaculate. Within the prostate, a series of ducts lined with fluid-producing cells pushes prostatic fluid out into the urethra (the tube that carries urine from the bladder) where it joins both the sperm produced by the testicles and the fluids generated by the seminal vesicles (narrow glands located on each side of the prostate).

The prostate consists of two lobes, right and left, and it’s wider at its base. The base of the prostate is higher up in your body, where the gland nestles against the bladder. The “apex” is the lower end, closer to the rectum. Between the apex and the base lies the mid-gland. These terms are important in discussions about prostate cancer, since the area of the prostate in which a cancer appears can affect symptoms, treatment options and outcomes. 

 

What are common prostate problems?

Unfortunately, most men will experience some kind of prostate problem during their lifetime. Prostate problems are generally associated with three conditions: prostatitis, BPH, and cancer.

Prostatitis refers to an inflamed prostate. There are two main types: acute prostatitis and chronic prostatitis. Acute prostatitis is caused by an infection, usually by bacteria, and results in the sudden onset of painful urination, a small stream and often fever and chills, Chronic prostatitis, also known as chronic pelvic pain syndrome, is a less well defined condition. Its symptoms include persistent or recurrent pelvic discomfort, pain or burning with urination, an increased urge to urinate, difficulty emptying their bladders, and/or painful ejaculation. The underlying cause can be a chronic inflammation with or without an infection, and often the exact reason for symptoms can’t be found.

 

Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH), commonly called “enlarged prostate,” refers to the excessive growth of the gland that usually occurs after age 50; it can double or triple in mass during the latter decades of life. BPH is not caused by cancer (though it can occur alongside it). BPH can be considered an expected part of the aging process for most men. About half of cases are asymptomatic, but some men will experience problems. As the prostate expands in size, it effectively pinches off the urethra (the tube carrying urine from the bladder to the penis), making the muscular walls of the bladder have to work harder and causing problems with urination.

As with other cancers, prostate cancer is the abnormal growth of cells. Prostate cancer can be localized (limited to the prostate itself), regionally advanced (spread to surrounding tissue) or metastatic (spread to more distant sites). Recent years have seen great advancements in prostate-cancer screening, testing and treatment.

What causes prostate problems?

Acute prostatitis is usually caused by a bacterial infection. The exact cause of chronic prostatitis/chronic pelvic pain syndrome is often not discovered. One possibility is that the immune system mistakenly targets the prostate, blasting the gland with inflammatory compounds. Another possibility is bacterial or fungal infections that go undetected by standard testing methods. Certain foods may also trigger symptoms, as might stress and depression, chronic pain conditions, trauma to the genitourinary area, and repeated biopsies.

By far, the greatest risk factor for benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), or enlarged prostate, is age. However, prostatitis, a sedentary lifestyle, obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes have all been associated with the condition. And researchers have found correlations between BPH and a diet high in sugar, red meat and refined grains.

 

No exact cause of prostate cancer has been identified, although genetic defects (either inherited or uninherited) play a key role. Age is an important risk factor, as is family history: Men whose fathers or brothers had prostate cancer are two to three times likelier to get it themselves. Race appears to matter, as well—rates among African Americans are 60% higher than in white men. A diet high in red meat and saturated fats has been associated with increased risk, and obesity is a separate risk factor. Some studies suggest that men who ejaculate infrequently are at higher risk.

 

Source; Harvard Journal

 

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