Unfortunately, a lot of men aren't familiar with their prostate. Many don't know what it does, how to find it or, most importantly, how to check it for signs of inflammation or cancer. Learning about prostate health can be the key to early detection when something's amiss in the male reproductive system. Below are six important facts about the prostate and the importance of prostate health.
1. Prostatitis Is a Very Common Condition for Men Under 50
The prostate is an important part of the male reproductive system. It's a small gland (about the size of a walnut) that sits in front of the rectum and when it's inflamed, it can cause painful, even debilitating symptoms. This is known as prostatitis, and it's the most common urinary tract problem for men aged 50 and under. There are four types of prostatitis:
- Asymptomatic inflammatory prostatitis
- Chronic prostatitis
- Acute bacterial prostatitis
- Chronic bacterial prostatitis
Asymptomatic inflammatory prostatitis must be diagnosed by a doctor, as it's simply characterized by inflammation of the prostate and doesn't cause symptoms or complications. Other forms of prostatitis result in a variety of urinary tract and sexual symptoms. Bacterial prostatitis may also cause fever, chills, nausea, vomiting and body aches.
2. There Are Plenty of Ways to Keep Your Prostate Healthy
Although there is no absolute cure for prostate cancer and no way to prevent 100% of prostatitis cases, there are things you can do for yourself to reduce your risk of prostate health problems. This includes maintaining a healthy weight, eating well and keeping physically active. Additionally, regular ejaculation and prostate massage are thought to reduce the risk of prostate cancer and prostatitis.
3. Prostate Growth Isn't Always Cause for Concern
Although the average prostate is walnut-sized, many men find that their prostate grows as they age. In fact, the prostate can reach the size of a lemon by the time a man reaches his sixties. Since the prostate sits against the urethra, this growth can affect a man's ability to empty his bladder completely, resulting in frequent trips to the bathroom. Although this condition can be inconvenient, it's usually not serious or cancerous and is rarely cause for concern. Even so, any suspected abnormalities are always a good reason to visit the doctor to rule out other prostate health problems.
4. Prostate Cancer Doesn't Usually Cause Symptoms Right Away
According to the World Cancer Research Fund, prostate cancer was the second most common type of cancer diagnosed in men in 2018. In many cases, the cancer is caught during a screening and has no symptoms. That's why it's so important for men to have regular physicals and cancer screenings. This is particularly true for men aged 50 and older, as the risk of cancer in that particular age group is highest.
5. Men Over 50 Should Have Their Prostate Checked on a Regular Schedule
According to the American Cancer Association, men aged 40 and up should be screened for prostate cancer. Prostate health checks include a blood test for a protein called prostate-specific antigen and levels below 2.5 ng/mL are considered safe. Men who have a safe PSA level should be re-tested every other year, while those with levels between 2.6 and 4 ng/mL should be tested annually. Men with levels higher than 4.0 ng/mL require further testing for prostate cancer and other prostate health conditions.
During a prostate examination, most doctors will also perform a digital rectal exam, which involves inserting a finger inside the rectum to check for lumps and inflammation.
6. Problems With the Prostate Can Cause Symptoms in Other Parts of the Body
There are many symptoms that can signal a prostate health problem. These symptoms include trouble urinating, frequent nighttime urination and painful intercourse or ejaculation. However, in some cases, prostate problems can result in pain that radiates down into the legs or up into the lower back or abdomen. In cases where the problem is caused by a bacterial infection, a man may feel flu-like symptoms in addition to urinary problems. These may include fever, chills and general aches and pains. In severe cases, nausea and vomiting may occur, as well. In any case, the importance of prostate health should always be taken seriously. Any abnormalities, pain or other symptoms in the prostate, rectum, urinary tract or otherwise should be checked by a doctor as soon as possible.