Aging & Health A to Z
Basic Facts & Information
The Prostate Gland
The prostate is a walnut-sized gland that is part of a man's sex organs. The prostate is wrapped around the urethra, 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.
Approximately 3 million American men have some type of prostate disease. The most common prostate diseases are:
Benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH)
BPH is the most common prostate disease in men over the age of 50. More than 60% of men over age 60, and more than 80% of men over the age of 80 have BPH. This makes it one of the most common health problems for older men. BPH is caused by enlargement of the prostate gland to the point that it begins to compress the urethra, which slows or blocks the flow of urine. Although the enlargement of the prostate in BPH is not cancerous, it can still cause symptoms that require medical or surgical treatment.
Prostatitis is a painful inflammation of the prostate gland. It is the most common disease of the prostate in men under the age of 50, but it may also occur in older men. About 8% of men will have prostatitis at some point in their lives. Prostatitis can be acute, which means that it occurs suddenly and resolves quickly with treatment. It can also be chronic, which means that it occurs more gradually, is recurring, and sometimes persists for months.
Prostate cancer is a frequent cancer diagnosis in older men. Every year, about 200,000 men in the U.S. are diagnosed with prostate cancer, and about 30,000 men die of the disease. This makes prostate cancer the second-most deadly cancer in men after lung cancer. Approximately one in every six men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer at some time during his life. Prostate cancer is more common in older men. It is rare in men under the age of 40, but almost half of men over the age of 70 are thought to have it.
Prostate cancer can be a fatal disease, but many prostate cancers grow very slowly and do not spread beyond the prostate. In many older men, the cancer never causes symptoms or affects their health, and they eventually die of conditions unrelated to the prostate cancer. However, some prostate cancers are aggressive and spread quickly to other areas of the body.
Updated: March 2018
Posted: May 2012