Prostate cancer – what is a prostate and why should I care?

They say 50 is the new 40, and if the popular media is any indication, then it seems that prostate cancer is the new breast cancer. That is not to make light of this serious condition, but rather to point out that this health issue in men has finally become so well understood, so well respected, that it is now receiving its full share of attention, in medicine and media. To be sure, prostate cancer is a serious problem for men of a certain age. But many men are left to ask questions about what their prostate is, and why they should be concerned.

The prostate is a small, walnut shaped gland, which is part of the male reproductive system. This unassuming little gland, situated underneath the bladder and seminal vessel, produces one of the fluids that comprises semen. This fluid has a slightly alkaline pH factor; its job is to neutralize the natural acidity found in the vagina, which helps sperm to live long and prosper, giving them time to make their journey towards the woman’s egg. The prostate gland also contains muscles which help to pushh semen out during ejaculation.

As men age, this organ, which has been so important in the reproductive process of their youth, becomes a source of problems. Once a man reaches 40, the prostate can begin to enlarge. By the age of 80, about 90 percent of men have an enlarged prostate. An enlarged prostate can be highly problematic, because the prostate is so close to the bladder, and surrounds the urethra (the urinary tract). When the prostate enlarges, it pushes on the urethra and bladder, causing urinary issues including a constant sense of having “to go,” frequent urination, incomplete emptying of the bladder, and infections. However, an enlarged prostate is in no way related to cancer – it is just highly annoying.

Cancer, though, is a possible problem for men, beginning around the age of 50. In fact, some studies have shown that three percent of elderly men will die from prostate cancer. The further bad news is that there are no specific risk factors (other than age) for prostate cancer, and thus, no particular preventative methods. Though, good diet and exercise is always effective against cancer, and some research has shown a vegetarian diet and the traditional Chinese diet, to reduce the risks.

The good news is, modern technology can find prostate cancer very early, making for an excellent prognoses. A number of tests are available to help detect prostate cancer including blood tests, urinalysis, physical prostate exams, and seminal fluid analysis. Two of the best tests for finding prostate cancer early are the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) and the digital rectal examination (DRE). Men over 50 should have at least the DRE, every year. For men with a family history of prostate cancer, their doctor may recommend starting prostate screenings up to 10 years earlier.

Medical testing is the best way to find cancer early, while it is still treatable. Once symptoms develop, the cancer may be too far advanced to effectively treat. Furthermore, men should recognize that the symptoms of prostate cancer are common to other non-cancerous conditions, including enlarged prostate and bladder infection. Thus, men should not become overly concerned if they experience frequency, urgency, burning sensation, or other urinary ailments. Though, they should consult a doctor immediately.

While medications can control an enlarged prostate, a cancerous prostate will likely require removal and chemotherapy. Early detection is the best way to ensure a good prognoses. The general health of the man, other than his prostate, also plays a role in how well he will recover from this cancer. But today, our ability to find this cancer early, and treat it effectively, is unparalleled, and many men can live productive, healthy lives, as prostate cancer survivors.