What is the prostate gland and what does it do?

Dec 17, 2022
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The prostate gland helps men in many ways but may cause problems as men get older such as benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) and prostate cancer. If men experience urinary symptoms, they should see a doctor.

The Prostate gland is tucked deep within the pelvis, just under the bladder and is generally the size of a Ping-Pong ball. Most people don’t know what purpose the prostate serves, they just hear about potential problems the prostate can cause later in life. The prostate is responsible for protecting the sperm. It does this by producing an enzyme called prostate-specific antigen (PSA), which liquefies the semen, essentially freeing it from the seminal coagulum. PSA also neutralizing the cervix’s blocking enzyme, which allows sperm to freely enter the uterus and, hopefully, penetrate the egg. 

The prostate gland, which controls the flow of urine as well as producing ejaculate fluid, averages about 30 grams in size in adult men It is usually smaller in younger men (around size of a walnut) and larger in older men (from the size of a Ping-Pong ball to a tennis ball). 

As men age and their prostate grows, they become more vulnerable to two disorders: prostate cancer and benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). Both disorders are uncommon in men younger than 40 years old, they become increasingly more common with every decade that passes. 

At the age of 50, a man’s risk of BPH is around 50 percent. By the time he’s 80, the risk increases to nearly 90 percent. The gradual growth in prostate size eventually causes pressure on the urethra, which makes the bladder have to work harder to empty. Symptoms of BPH include incontinence, difficulty urinating, and frequent urination, often at night interfering with sleep. Doctors don’t agree on what precisely causes BPH, but common theories relate to the changing levels of testosterone present in the body as it ages. BPH can be frustrating and uncomfortable and, on rare occasions, require surgery, but it’s not particularly dangerous

Prostate cancer, on the other hand, can be much more threatening. It is the most common kind of cancer found in males, and the second most fatal (after lung cancer). The lifetime rate of prostate cancer is about 1 in 9, and about 1 in 41 men die from it. The American Cancer Society predicts that there will be about 165,000 new cases of prostate cancer this year. Unlike breast cancer, which attacks women of all ages, prostate cancer is exceptionally rare in young men; the average age of a prostate cancer patient at the time of diagnosis is 66 years old. 

Prostate cancer occurs when cells within the gland begin to grow out of control. Some prostate cancers are slow-growing and very low-risk. Others are more aggressive, spreading to neighboring organs of the body or to the bones. 

Because the prostate is deep in the pelvis, and because BPH and prostate cancer often have many of the same initial symptoms, making an accurate diagnosis may be difficult. 

If you are experiencing urinary symptoms, you should have it checked by a doctor.