Do you know if you have any prostate health issues? How healthy do you think you are? According to a Cleveland Clinic poll, if you are a guy your health is probably something you are not too excited to talk about. In fact, a survey by the American Academy of Family Physicians found that more than half (55%) of all men have not seen their doctor for a physical exam in the last year. Despite this statistic, 79% of these men consider themselves as in “excellent,” “very good,” or “good” health.
Being nonchalant about your health puts you at a higher risk for health concerns, especially as you age. Annual checkups help detect changes in your prostate before they become more significant prostate health issues.
In this article, we provide information about the prostate and how certain prostate health issues may affect you.
About the Prostate
The prostate is a small gland that is part of the male reproductive system. It helps make semen (the fluid that is released through the penis when you ejaculate). The prostate surrounds part of the urethra (the tube that carries urine out of your body). It sits low in your pelvis, below the bladder and in front of the rectum.
A healthy prostate is generally about the size of a walnut. Throughout your life, the prostate goes through two main stages of growth. The first happens during puberty when it doubles in size. The second begins at around 25 years of age and continues to grow as you age.
How Prostate Health Issues Affect You
As you get older, the size and health of your prostate can change. Some prostate health issues may be uncomfortable and lead to a lower quality of life. Others may be more damaging to your health in the long run. The three most common types of prostate health issues are benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), prostatitis, and prostate cancer.
Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH)
Normally the size of a walnut, your prostate may grow to be the size of an apricot by the time you are 40. And by the time you are 60, it may be as large as a lemon. As the prostate gets bigger, many men experience the symptoms of benign prostatic hyperplasia (also called BPH).
BPH is an enlargement of the prostate gland, which commonly occurs as men get older. If you have BPH, you are not alone. Over 50% of men in their 60s and up to 90% of men in their 70s and 80s have BPH.
A growing prostate can press against and pinch the urethra. This causes the urethra to narrow, and may trigger urinary concerns such as urinary frequency, urgency, and decreased urinary flow. If you find yourself urgently running to the bathroom, waking up several times throughout the night to urinate, or have a hard time getting a strong stream of urine, you may have BPH.
Studies show that BPH is also strongly associated with erectile dysfunction (ED) and other sexual side effects. It is unclear why men with BPH also often have a lower sex drive, trouble keeping an erection, and less sexual satisfaction. The link between BPH and ED may be physical, but it may also be connected to genetics, age, lack of sleep, or anxiety.
Fortunately, there are treatment options that may lessen the symptoms of BPH. These treatment options include medications, minimally invasive procedures, and prostate surgery. For men with mild to moderate symptoms, certain nutritional supplements may provide some relief for this common prostate health issue.
Prostatitis is a condition that involves inflammation and swelling of the prostate gland as well as the area around the prostate. Men with prostatitis often experience painful or difficult urination and may have pain in the groin, pelvic area, or genitals.
Prostatitis affects men of all ages but is more common in men younger than age 50. It is the most common urinary tract problem for younger men and accounts for about two million visits to healthcare providers in the U.S. each year.
There are four different types of prostatitis, but the most common is chronic prostatitis/chronic pelvic pain syndrome (CP/CPPS). Prostatitis becomes “chronic” when symptoms last for three months or longer.
Many times, you can treat CP/CPPS with prescription medications such as antibiotics, anti-inflammatory, or alpha-blocking medications. Sometimes a doctor will prescribe a combination of these medicines to decrease the inflammation, pain, and discomfort.
Some complementary and alternative treatments may be beneficial for prostatitis symptom relief. These treatments include warm baths (sitz baths), heat therapy (heating pad) to the affected area, physical therapy, relaxation exercises, acupuncture, and phytotherapy.
Prostate cancer begins when cells in the prostate gland start to grow uncontrollably. While there are different types of prostate cancers, most are adenocarcinomas. These types of cancer develop from mucus-secreting gland cells (the cells that make the prostate fluid that is added to the semen).
While some prostate cancers develop quickly, the good news is that most grow very slowly. In many cases, autopsies have revealed that older men who died of other causes, also had prostate cancer that never affected them. In fact, many of these men nor their doctors never knew they had it while they were alive.
Prostate cancer mainly affects older men. About 60% of men are diagnosed with prostate cancer after the age of 65, and it is rare before 40. The survival rate for prostate cancer is very good. While it is a serious disease, most men with prostate cancer will die with prostate cancer, not from it. There are almost 3 million men in the United States who have been diagnosed with prostate cancer at some point and are still alive today.
That being said, approximately 220,800 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer in the U.S. every year. It is the most frequently diagnosed type of cancer in men and the second leading cause of cancer death.
Treatment and Risk Factors for Prostate Cancer
Because prostate cancer is typically slow-growing, early detection is key. If you find out you have prostate cancer, there are several treatment options. Depending on the severity or stage of cancer progression, you may not wish to do any treatment at all. Many doctors call this option “watchful waiting” or “active surveillance.”
For others, with more aggressive forms of prostate cancer, treatment options include:
- Radiation therapy
- Cryotherapy (cryosurgery)
- Hormone therapy
- Vaccine treatment
- Bone-directed treatment
There are some risk factors, such as age, ethnicity, and family history, that men cannot control. However, there are other risk factors, such as diet and lifestyle choices, that are controllable. By focusing on these controllable risk factors, men may be able to decrease their risk of prostate cancer.
While thinking about your health may not be your favorite subject, getting regular checkups is an important step in living a healthy, active lifestyle. Many prostate health issues, if detected early, can be manageable and have a low impact on your quality of life.
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