The prostate is a walnut-sized gland located between the bladder and the penis. The prostate is just in front of the rectum. The urethra runs through the center of the prostate, from the bladder to the penis, letting urine flow out of the body.
The prostate secretes fluid that nourishes and protects sperm. During ejaculation, the prostate squeezes this fluid into the urethra, and it’s expelled with sperm as semen.
The vasa deferentia (singular: vas deferens) bring sperm from the testes to the seminal vesicles. The seminal vesicles contribute fluid to semen during ejaculation.
Prostate enlargement is a very common condition associated with ageing. More than 1 in 3 of all men over 50 will have some symptoms of prostate enlargement.
It’s not known why the prostate gets bigger as you get older, but it is not caused by cancer and does not increase your risk of developing prostate cancer.
An enlarged prostate can put pressure on the urethra, which can affect how you urinate.
Signs of an enlarged prostate can include:
- difficulty starting or stopping urinating
- a weak flow of urine
- straining when peeing
- feeling like you’re not able to fully empty your bladder
- prolonged dribbling after you’ve finished peeing
- needing to pee more frequently or more suddenly
- waking up frequently during the night to pee
See your GP if you notice any problems with, or changes to, your usual pattern of urination.
Simple measures such as reducing the amount you drink (especially tea, coffee and alcohol) before bed can sometimes help control the symptoms. Medication can help reduce the size of your prostate and relax the muscles of your bladder.
In severe cases that do not get better with medication, the inner part of the prostate can be surgically removed.
Prostatitis is where the prostate gland becomes inflamed (swollen). It’s sometimes caused by a bacterial infection, although more often no infection can be found and it’s not clear why it happened.
Unlike prostate enlargement or prostate cancer – which usually affect older men – prostatitis can develop in men of all ages. However, it’s generally more common in men aged between 30 and 50.
Symptoms of prostatitis can include:
- pain in the pelvis, genitals, lower back and buttocks
- pain when urinating
- a frequent need to pee
- difficulty urinating, such as problems starting to pee
- pain when ejaculating
- pain in the perineum (the area between the anus and scrotum), which is often made worse by prolonged sitting
See your GP if you have these symptoms.
Prostatitis can be treated using a combination of painkillers and a type of medication called an alpha-blocker, which can help to relax the muscles of the prostate and bladder neck. Medication that shrinks the prostate gland may also be helpful.
Most men will recover within a few weeks or months, although some will continue to have symptoms for longer.
Does prostate cancer have any symptoms?
Most men with early prostate cancer don’t have any signs or symptoms.
One reason for this is the way the cancer grows. You’ll usually only get early symptoms if the cancer grows near the tube you urinate through (the urethra) and presses against it, changing the way you urinate (wee). But because prostate cancer usually starts to grow in a different part (usually the outer part) of the prostate, early prostate cancer doesn’t often press on the urethra and cause symptoms.
If you do notice changes in the way you urinate, this is more likely to be a sign of a very common non-cancerous problem called an enlarged prostate, or another health problem. But it’s still a good idea to get it checked out. Possible changes include:
- difficulty starting to urinate or emptying your bladder
- a weak flow when you urinate
- a feeling that your bladder hasn’t emptied properly
- dribbling urine after you finish urinating
- needing to urinate more often than usual, especially at night
- a sudden need to urinate – you may sometimes leak urine before you get to the toilet.
- back pain, hip pain or pelvis pain
- problems getting or keeping an erection
- blood in the urine or semen
- unexplained weight loss.
These symptoms can all be caused by other health problems. But it’s still a good idea to tell your GP about any symptoms so they can find out what’s causing them and make sure you get the right treatment, if you need it.
How do you know if you have prostate cancer?
There’s no way of knowing if you have prostate cancer without visiting your doctor, as most men with early prostate cancer don’t have any symptoms. And if you do have symptoms they can be caused by other things.
And you can’t check for prostate cancer yourself.
You may want to speak to your GP if you’re over 50 (or over 45 if you have a family history of prostate cancer or are a black man), even if you don’t have any symptoms. These are all things that can increase your risk of prostate cancer. Your GP can give more information or tests if necessary.
If you’re not sure about what to say to your GP, print and fill out this form and show it to them. This will help you have the conversation.
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