Men: It’s time to talk about prostate health
While many men are reluctant to talk about their health, experts say they should be talking about prostate health.
The prostate is a reproductive gland responsible for secreting some fluids found in semen. These fluids help protect and extend the lifespan of sperm.
As men grow older, the prostate grows in size.
“Growth of the prostate occurs in the teens and again in the 30s, but the prostate continues to grow throughout life,” says Dr. Timothy Buffey, family medicine physician at Advocate BroMenn Medical Center in Normal, Ill.
Scientists are still unsure why this growth occurs, but there are several related prostate problems that can develop as a result. The three most common problems are:
- An inflamed prostate (prostatitis)
- An enlarged prostate (benign prostatic hyperplasia, or BPH)
- Prostate cancer
It is important to note there is no link between these different conditions and it is possible to have multiple conditions at once, Dr. Buffey says.
Chronic prostatitis affects 10 to 15 percent of the male population and can occur in men of any age group, according to the National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Prostatitis is caused by a bacterial infection and frequently leads to a burning sensation during urination, a frequent urge to go, painful ejaculations, and rectal pain or pressure.
Men experiencing these symptoms should speak to their physician. The most common test for prostatitis is a urine test and many antibiotics are now available to treat this condition.
An enlarged prostate caused by abnormal non-cancerous cell growth also makes the prostate swell. The most common problem is blockage of urine flow. Accompanying symptoms may include trouble urinating, urinating often, a sudden urge to go, stopping and starting while going, or straining to go. There is currently no cure for an enlarged prostate, but prescriptions or surgery can help relieve symptoms.
The most serious prostate issue is prostate cancer.
According to the National Cancer Institute, more than half of all American men will develop some form of cancer in their prostate glands by the age of 80. However, most of these cancers are not life threatening. The disease only becomes serious if the cancer metastasizes, or spreads, to other parts of the body. Men 50 or older are considered to be at a higher risk for prostate cancer.
Men should begin being tested for prostate problems once they reach age 50. This usually involves a digital rectal exam and/or a test that measures the level of prostate-specific antigen in the blood.
According to the American Cancer Society, there are pros and cons to the screening tests available, especially the blood test for prostate cancer, and not all doctors are in agreement as to its usefulness.
“A prostate exam performed by a physician or other health practitioner may help detect cancer earlier, but it hasn’t been shown to result in fewer cancer-related issues or death in asymptomatic men,” says Dr. Buffey. “This discussion is best had with your personal physician.”
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