The Prostate’s Important Role
The prostate is the walnut-size reproductive gland located below a man’s bladder that plays an important role in sexual health and reproduction. During ejaculation, the prostate gland produces whitish seminal fluid that protects sperm produced by the testicles. Unlike other organs and glands, the prostate doesn’t stop growing in early adulthood.
Normally, body organs reach full size after a man’s transition from adolescence to adulthood around his early 20s, Dr. Apichart explains. However, the prostate continues to grow. Just how much it grows depends on the level of testosterone, the male sex hormone which usually declines as a man ages.
Declining testosterone levels can lead to an unhealthy enlargement of the prostate gland. The less testosterone sent to the prostate, the more the enzymes in the prostate convert testosterone to Dihydrotestosterone (DHT)
, which is the hormone responsible for prostate enlargement and the cause of one or more prostate diseases.
Cancer and Other Prostate Diseases
When the prostate becomes enlarged, it may begin pressing against the urethra, leading to urinary control problems, painful or uncomfortable urination, and/or the presence of blood during urination. In serious cases, cancerous tumors may begin to form in the prostate, and if left untreated, the cancer may spread to other areas of the body. In most parts of the world, prostate cancer is the leading type of cancer among men. Men should see their doctor at the first sign of abnormal urinary function as this may be a symptom of one or more of the following prostate conditions:
The term prostatitis means inflammation of the prostate gland. It is often found in men between the ages of 30 to 50 and can result from both bacterial and non-bacterial causes. Prostatitis is not considered contagious. Bacterial prostatitis is usually the result of bacteria entering the prostate through the urinary tract. Typical symptoms include fever, chills, muscle aches, pain in the penis and/or testicles, and abnormal urination.
The symptoms of non-bacterial prostatitis are similar to those of bacterial prostatitis but the source of the infection may be difficult to identify.
Prostate Enlargement (Benign Prostate Hypertrophy)
This condition typically affects men beyond the age of 40 who have reduced levels of testosterone. Patients usually fall into one of two groups based on whether they show obstructive or irritative symptoms. Obstructive symptoms include weak or intermittent urinary stream, hesitation before urine flow begins, or a feeling that the bladder has not emptied completely. Irritative symptoms include an increased frequency of urination, urgent need to urinate, and bladder pain or irritation while urinating. Prostate enlargement is usually not life threatening, but its symptoms can have a major impact on a man’s quality of life. Prostate enlargement may lead to kidney problems including kidney stones and further loss of bladder control.
Patients with mild symptoms are usually treated through a combination of lifestyle changes and medication. Doctors often recommend reducing liquid consumption in the evening hours, cutting back on alcoholic and caffeinated beverages, and avoiding medications such as decongestants which can increase the desire to urinate. A number of prescription medications have been proven safe and effective in treating overactive bladders.
occurs when cancerous cells within the prostate grow and divide abnormally to form malignant tumors. Age and family history are key risk factors in developing prostate cancer; a man’s risk increases significantly after the age of 40, and having a father or brother who has had prostate cancer increases a man’s own prostate cancer risk.
Prostate cancer especially when detected early is treatable and curable. As the cancer cells grow and press against the urethra, they typically produce symptoms such as frequent urination, difficulty or pain during urination, or the presence of blood in the urine. In serious cases, the cancer eventually spreads to the lymph nodes, bones or other organs where it becomes difficult to treat and impossible to cure.
Preventing Prostate Problems
As with so many other medical issues, prevention and early detection are the most important steps a man can take to avoid prostate problems. Beginning at the age of 40, men should have regular annual prostate check-ups, because prostate cancer in its early stage is highly treatable, but it may not cause any symptoms, Dr. Apichart says. Moreover, men should see their doctor immediately if they encounter any urinary problems. Don’t wait until your next check-up!
Good nutrition habits can lower one’s risk of developing prostate problems. Cooking with oils like olive oil and peanut oil, which are high in monounsaturated fats, can promote prostate health, Dr. Apichart says. Other healthy choices include eating fish like mackerel and salmon that are rich in cancer-fighting omega-3 fatty acids. Vegetables containing Allyn Sulfur, including garlic, onions, chive and soy protein, have been found to have cancer-fighting properties. And avoid high fat foods as they can increase one’s risk of prostate cancer and other serious conditions.
The key to good prostate health is to maintain good overall health, and pay attention to signs of potential prostate problems, especially urinary tract symptoms,Dr. Apichart recommends. And get in the habit of regular doctor visits, because preventing illness is always easier than treating it.
How Is Prostate Cancer Diagnosed?
- Digital Rectal Exam (DRE) The doctor places a finger inside the rectum to check for changes to the size and surface of the prostate.
- PSA (prostate-specific antigen) Test This blood test measures the level of a naturally-occurring protein produced by the prostate. High or increasing levels can indicate the presence of prostate cancer.
- Ultrasound The prostate can be examined through a type of ultrasound called transrectal ultrasonography. A tube inserted into the rectum transmits sound waves to the nearby prostate, producing a computerized image.
- Biopsy If diagnostic tests and symptoms suggest prostate cancer, the doctor will perform a prostate biopsy, a technique in which a small sample of tissue is removed through a tiny needle and examined under a microscope to check if the cells are malignant.