The prostate is a walnut size gland located deep in the pelvis just below the bladder.
The tube draining the bladder, called the urethra, passes through the centre of the prostate to the penis. The prostate is found only in men. It is an essential part of the reproductive system as, along with the seminal vesicle, it helps make nutrients in the form of semen for the sperm. The sperm travels from the testicles to the urethra, where it combines with semen from the seminal vesicles and the prostate.
The prostate gland enlarges after puberty stimulated by rising levels of testosterone, the male hormone. This can sometimes cause problems later in life as a result of a condition called benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) where the urethra is squeezed by the prostate. This may lead to difficulties with urination (especially at night), more frequent urination and on occasion other symptoms.
BPH is different from prostate cancer, although it can share similar symptoms. Treatments available for this non-cancerous problem include drugs to shrink or relax the gland. If symptoms are severe or persist, various surgical options are available to remove prostate tissue or lift and hold it away from the urethra, thus relieving the pressure.
Prostate cancer is a condition where the cells within the prostate begin to divide and grow in an uncontrolled manner and form tumours.
Precisely why this happens is not clear. We do know that risk may be increased where there is a family history of the disease or of breast cancer; and there is an increased risk if you are Afro-Caribbean.
Prostate cancer is relatively unusual in men under 50 but by the age of 60 significant numbers of men will have developed some evidence of the disease, with most diagnoses occurring between the ages of 60 and 80. In fact almost all men will have prostate cancer by the age of 80. A diagnosis is not necessarily of immediate concern as most cancers grow very slowly and may cause no harm during a man’s natural lifespan. However, some are more aggressive and the earlier they are discovered the better.
If the cancer is localised, meaning it is contained within the gland, there is a wide range of treatment options and a better than 80% chance of a complete cure.
If the cancer spreads (metastasises) to other areas of the body, it is said to be advanced and, although not curable, many cases can be controlled with appropriate treatment. It is therefore crucial to detect the disease at as early a stage as possible.