Aging & Health A to Z
Basic Facts & Information
What are Prostate Diseases?
The prostate—one of the components of a man's sex organs—is a walnut-sized gland in young men. But with age, the prostate slowly increases in size, and this can cause problems. For men, the older you get, the more likely you are to have problems with your prostate gland.
The prostate is wrapped around the urethra, which is the tube that carries urine out of the body when you urinate. In men, the urethra also carries semen, the fluid that contains sperm, out of the body during ejaculation. The prostate adds special fluids to the semen when a man ejaculates, and muscles in the prostate gland contract to force the semen out of the body.
Frequent or painful urination is often a sign of a prostate problem, especially in older men. If you notice blood in your urine, see your healthcare professional right away to rule out anything serious.
The Most Common Types of Prostate Diseases
- Benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH)
- Prostate cancer
For men over the age of 50, the prostate disease most often encountered is benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). If you have BPH, your prostate has enlarged to the point that it begins to squeeze the urethra. This prevents urine from flowing easily from the bladder to the outside of the body. Although this condition is benign—the prostate tissue is not cancerous—it can still cause serious problems requiring treatment.
For men under the age of 50, prostatitis (inflammation of the prostate) is the most common prostate disease. It may be caused by a bacterial infection or have no identifiable cause. Either way, it can produce severe pain, burning, and disability. Prostatitis occurs in older men, as well, but is less common.
Prostate cancer, a sometimes fatal disease, usually causes few symptoms unless it has spread to other parts of the body, such as the bones. It is easily curable in its early stages. It is extremely common in older men, and many have undetected prostate cancer for many years, eventually dying of unrelated conditions.
How Common are Prostate Diseases?
Approximately 3 million American men have some type of prostate disease. More than half of all men over the age of 65 develop BPH, and almost all men over 85 (about 90%) have it, making it one of the most common health problems for older men. About a quarter of a million surgeries are performed each year in the United States to correct BPH.
Prostate cancer is a frequent cancer diagnosis in American men. Although it is rare in people under the age of 40, it becomes more common in older men, and almost half of men over the age of 70 are thought to have it, but for many men this cancer will not seriously impact their health. About 200,000 men in this country are diagnosed with prostate cancer every year, and about 30,000 die of the disease, making it the second most deadly cancer in men after lung cancer. Approximately one in every six men will be diagnosed with this cancer at some time during his lifetime.
Although prostatitis is less common than BPH or prostate cancer, about 8% of the male population will suffer from it at some point in their lives.
Updated: May 2012
Posted: May 2012