Stan just found out that a friend has prostate cancer. A lot of men he knows have some kind of problem with their prostate. He’s worried that this might happen to him.
It’s true that prostate problems are common after age 50. The good news is there are many things you can do.
The prostate is a gland about the size of a walnut. It is part of the male reproductive system and wraps around the tube that carries urine out of the bladder. It grows larger as you get older. If your prostate gets too large, it can cause health issues. Having prostate problems does not always mean you have cancer.
Sometimes a doctor may find a problem during a routine checkup or by doing a rectal exam. If you think there is something wrong with your prostate, see your doctor right away.
Here are some examples of non-cancer prostate problems:
Benign prostatic hyperplasia, or BPH, means your prostate is enlarged, but is not cancerous. It is very common in older men. An enlarged prostate may make it very difficult to urinate or cause dribbling after you urinate. You may feel the need to urinate a lot, often at night. See your family doctor for an exam. Treatments for BPH include:
Acute bacterial prostatitis usually starts suddenly from a bacterial infection. It can cause fever, chills, or pain. It might hurt when you urinate, or you may see blood in your urine. See your doctor right away. He or she can prescribe medicine to make you feel better.
Chronic bacterial prostatitis is an infection that comes back again and again. This is a rare problem that can be hard to treat. Sometimes taking antibiotics for a long time may work. Talk with your doctor about other things you can do to help you feel better.
Chronic prostatitis, also called Chronic Pelvic Pain Syndrome (CPPS), is a common prostate problem. It can cause pain in the lower back, in the groin area, or at the tip of the penis. Men with this problem often have painful ejaculation. They may feel the need to urinate frequently, but pass only a small amount of urine. Treating this condition may require a combination of medicines, surgery, and lifestyle changes.
Prostate cancer is common among American men. Your chance of getting prostate cancer may be affected by your:
At the start, prostate cancer does not cause symptoms. As the cancer grows, you may have trouble urinating. Some men need to urinate often, especially at night. Others have pain or burning during urination, blood in the urine or semen, pain in the back, hips, or pelvis, and painful ejaculation.
To find out if these symptoms are caused by prostate cancer, your doctor will ask about your past medical problems and your family’s medical history. He or she will perform a physical exam. During the exam, your doctor will put a gloved finger into your rectum to feel your prostate for hard or lumpy areas.
Your doctor may also do a blood test to check the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) level. PSA levels can be high in men with an enlarged prostate gland or with prostate cancer. You may also need an ultrasound exam that takes computer pictures of the prostate.
If tests show that you might have cancer, your doctor will want to confirm this with a biopsy. He or she will take out tiny pieces of the prostate to look for cancer cells. Your doctor may want to do a biopsy again to re-check the results.
Treatment for prostate cancer depends on whether cancer is in part or all of the prostate or if it has spread to other parts of the body. It also depends on your age and overall health. Talk with your doctor about the best treatment choice for you. You may want to ask another doctor for a second opinion.
For cancer that has not spread from the prostate to other parts of the body, your doctor may suggest:
Get more details on treatment choices for prostate cancer by calling the National Cancer Institute’s Cancer Information Service at 1-800-422-6237. Or, visit their website at www.cancer.gov/prostate.
Some doctors think that men younger than 75 should have yearly PSA tests; others do not. Not all prostate cancers are life-threatening, and treatments can cause side effects. Sometimes high PSA levels can be caused by infections, BPH, or small cancers that may not grow or spread. Your doctor may prefer “watchful waiting” until there are signs that treatment is needed. Researchers are studying ways to improve the PSA test so that it detects only cancers that need treatment.
Remember that the following can be signs of a prostate problem:
If you have any of these symptoms, see your doctor right away.
Here are some helpful resources:
Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality
P.O. Box 8547
Silver Spring, MD 20907-8547
American Cancer Society
American Urological Association Foundation
1000 Corporate Boulevard
Linthicum, MD 21090
National Cancer Institute
Cancer Information Service
National Kidney and Urologic Diseases
3 Information Way
Bethesda, MD 20892-3580
For more information on health and aging, contact:
To sign up for regular email alerts about new publications and other information from the NIA, go to www.nia.nih.gov/health.
Visit www.nihseniorhealth.gov, a senior-friendly website from the National Institute on Aging and the National Library of Medicine. This website has health and wellness information for older adults. Special features make it simple to use. For example, you can click on a button to make the type larger.
National Institute on Aging
National Institutes of Health
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Publication Date: April 2011
Page Last Updated: April 25, 2013