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Understanding Prostate Health, Changes and Conditions

What You Should Know About Prostate Health

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer among men in the UK, yet it often lacks the awareness and recognition it deserves compared to other cancers. This may be due to the prostate's relatively obscure function and the non-specific nature of its symptoms. However, early detection is crucial as prostate cancer is highly treatable, especially when identified early.

While this article will primarily focus on prostate cancer, it’s important to remember that other conditions can affect the prostate. As men age, the prostate naturally enlarges, potentially leading to urinary issues such as hesitancy, poor stream, and frequent nighttime urination. Additionally, the prostate can become infected or inflamed, resulting in prostatitis, which sometimes requires antibiotic treatment.

Man speaking to doctor

What is the Prostate?

The prostate is a walnut-sized gland located below the bladder, and its primary function is to produce prostatic fluid, a component of semen. It surrounds the urethra, the tube that connects the bladder to the penis and can affect urinary flow if it becomes enlarged or inflamed.

Identifying Prostate Issues

Men typically seek medical advice for prostate concerns for two reasons: a noticeable change in urinary flow or a proactive health check-up. These consultations often increase following a public figure’s diagnosis of prostate cancer.

While changes in urinary flow are often benign, such as those caused by Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH), a non-cancerous enlargement of the prostate gland, prostate cancer can present with more insidious symptoms like fatigue, back pain, or erectile dysfunction.

As such, we should always consider the prostate as a possible culprit. Age is the most significant risk factor for prostate issues, and prostate cancer is more prevalent in black men. It’s also noteworthy that prostate cancer rates have been rising over the past decade.

Doctor with a prostate example

What Tests Are Available?

The most common test for assessing prostate health is the Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) blood test. PSA is a protein produced by the prostate, and whilst small amounts of PSA in the blood are normal, elevated levels in the blood can indicate various conditions, including inflammation, enlargement, or cancer. However, PSA testing is not without its limitations. It lacks specificity and sensitivity, meaning that elevated levels can be caused by non-cancerous factors such as vigorous exercise or recent ejaculation.

It’s important to remember that the level of PSA that is considered normal varies depending on your age. A reading that is normal for someone in their 80s may not be considered so in a young patient. Additionally, normal PSA levels do not always rule out cancer.

Advantages of PSA Testing

  • Early Detection: Checking your PSA can potentially identify prostate cancer before the onset of any symptoms. Prostate cancer is very treatable, particularly if diagnosed early.

Disadvantages of PSA Testing

  • False Positives: Elevated PSA levels can result from factors other than cancer, unable to be determined via a blood test, leading to unnecessary tests and anxiety. 

  • Variable Normal Levels: PSA levels considered normal vary with age, so results must be interpreted accordingly. Whilst a normal reading can provide a degree of reassurance, false positives can lead to unnecessary and potentially invasive tests.
Man holding prostate awareness badge

Prostate Examinations

Some of the reluctance in seeking medical advice regarding the prostate stems from fear of having to have the prostate examined. The examination involves a rectal exam where a clinician checks the prostate through the rectum. While it might sound uncomfortable, the procedure is quick and only mildly uncomfortable. It provides valuable information about the prostate's size and shape, aiding in the assessment of potential cancer.

Lifestyle and Prostate Health

While age, ethnicity, and family history are significant risk factors for prostate cancer, lifestyle factors, particularly being overweight, can also increase risk. Maintaining a healthy weight through physical activity and a balanced diet is crucial.

Prostate Cancer Statistics

Take Control of Your Prostate Health

Prostate issues can range from benign enlargement and infection to cancer. Awareness of prostate health is vital due to the often vague symptoms of prostate cancer. A PSA blood test, despite its limitations, can sometimes detect cancer early. Prostate cancer is highly treatable, especially when caught early. If you’re considering a PSA test, our Ultimate Prostate Check (PSA) Blood Test package is available. To ensure accuracy, avoid ejaculation or vigorous exercise 48 hours before the test.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is prostate cancer?

Prostate cancer is a type of cancer that develops in the prostate gland. It occurs when cells in the prostate gland mutate and multiply uncontrollably, forming a tumour.

What are the symptoms of prostate cancer?

Symptoms of prostate cancer can be quite vague but may include difficulty urinating, poor urine flow, blood in urine or semen, erectile dysfunction, or back pain.

What is PSA?

PSA stands for Prostate-Specific Antigen, a protein produced by the prostate gland. PSA levels in the blood can be measured through a blood test and are used as a marker for various prostate conditions, including cancer.

What is a prostate health index?

The Prostate Health Index (PHI) is a blood test that combines PSA with two other markers, [-2]proPSA and free PSA, to provide a more accurate assessment of prostate cancer risk.

What does a prostate do?

The prostate gland plays a role in the male reproductive system by producing fluid that transports sperm. It also helps regulate urine flow by surrounding the urethra, the tube that carries urine from the bladder out of the body.

How do you check for prostate cancer?

Prostate cancer can be detected through various methods, initially with a combination of asking relevant questions, rectal examination, and a PSA blood test. Further tests may involve imaging tests (such as ultrasound or MRI), and prostate biopsy.

What causes prostate cancer?

The exact cause of prostate cancer is unknown, but several factors may contribute to its development, including age, family history, race, and certain genetic mutations.

How do prostate issues begin?

Prostate problems can start due to various reasons, including inflammation (prostatitis), benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), or prostate cancer. These conditions may lead to symptoms like urinary difficulties, pain, or changes in sexual function.

How can I fix prostate problems?

Treatment for prostate problems depends on the specific condition and its severity. Options may include medications, lifestyle changes, minimally invasive procedures, or surgery, depending on the diagnosis and individual circumstances.

Can prostate cancer affect fertility?

Prostate cancer and its treatments can potentially affect fertility. Some treatments, such as surgery or radiation therapy, may damage nearby structures involved in sperm production or ejaculation. However, fertility preservation options may be available for men undergoing treatment.

Why would a prostate need to be removed?

Prostate removal, known as prostatectomy, may be necessary to treat prostate cancer that has not responded to other treatments or is aggressive. It may also be recommended for severe cases of Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH) that do not improve with other interventions.

Does prostate removal affect libido?

Prostate removal can affect libido or sexual function, but the extent varies based on factors like surgical technique and individual differences.

Can an enlarged prostate go back to normal?

An enlarged prostate, or benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), typically does not go back to its normal size without treatment. However, various medications, procedures, and lifestyle changes can help manage symptoms and reduce the size of the prostate gland, improving urinary function and quality of life.

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