The prostate gland
The prostate gland is found only in men and is part of the male reproductive system. It is located below the bladder and is about the size of a walnut. It surrounds the tube that carries urine from the bladder.
The prostate is very important for a man's sex life, producing some of the fluid in semen. When something goes wrong with the prostate, it can affect a man's sex life, his long-term health and with prostate cancer can lead to death.
Benign prostatic hyperplasia
Benign disease or benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) is common in older men, with the prostate growing slowly bigger. It can cause difficulty or pain when passing urine as the growing prostate puts pressure on the tube that carries urine from the bladder. Several treatments are available. BPH is treatable and is rare in men under 50.
Prostatitis can affect men of any age, and is an inflammation of the prostate gland. It can cause pain and difficulty when passing urine. Prostatitis is treatable and can occur in men of any age.
The risk of prostate cancer gets higher in older men, or those with a family history of the disease. Prostate cancer is also more common in the West where the diet can be high in dairy and animal fats.
Symptoms are similar to other prostate problems, particularly difficulty in passing urine, but other symptoms include lower back pain, pain in the hips or pelvis and erection problems. All these symptoms can also be caused by other problems.
Prostate cancer develops when a single cell in the prostate begins to multiply out of control and forms a tumour. Some cells may break away and travel to other parts of the body, starting new tumours. Prostate cancer is treatable and can be cured in many cases. It is rare in men under 50 but gets more common as men get older.
Prostate cancer behaves differently in different men, with some tumours growing very slowly and some developing quickly. There are no known measures you can take to reduce your risk of prostate cancer.
The symptoms of prostate diseases are similar:
- needing to urinate often, especially at night
- difficulty in starting to urinate
- straining to urinate or taking a long time to finish
- pain when urinating or ejaculating
Less common symptoms that may be prostate cancer are:
- pain in lower back, hips or pelvis
- blood in the urine (this is unusual)
However, these symptoms are often something else and not cancer. Prostate cancer is different from most cancers - some prostate cancers grow slowly and may not cause problems, but some grow quickly and need early treatment.
If you are worried about any of these symptoms, you should go and see your doctor.
The PSA test
The PSA (Prostate Specific Antigen) test measures the level of PSA in your blood. PSA is a substance made by the prostate gland, which naturally leaks into the bloodstream. A raised PSA can be an early indication of prostate cancer. However, other conditions that are not cancer (like enlargement of the prostate, prostatitis and urinary infection) can also cause a rise in PSA.
Your GP can organise a PSA test for you if you have symptoms of prostate disease. You can also request a test even if you don't have symptoms.
Find out more about prostate problems
With any prostate problem, it is important you talk to your doctor to see what your symptoms mean. GPs can provide resource packs and talk to you if you are worried about prostate cancer.
You can also contact The Prostate Cancer Charity's confidential helpline on:
- 0845 300 8383
Or, contact Cancer BACUP's free phone helpline on:
- 0808 800 1234
- Contacting 08 and 03 numbers