What you need to know about prostate health

Let’s face it: talking about men’s health, especially prostate health, can be uncomfortable. It’s a sensitive topic about a sensitive part of the body. But avoiding this important conversation can have consequences. Finding issues early increases your treatment options and can even save your life.

What does the prostate do?

The prostate is part of the male reproductive system. A walnut-sized gland located below the bladder and in front of the rectum, it surrounds the tube that empties the bladder. Its primary job is to make seminal fluid, the fluid that carries sperm.

What kind of problems can arise?

It’s natural for the prostate to grow larger with age. If it gets too large, it may press on the bladder and increase your need to pee and cause other problems with urinating. This condition is called benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH).

Prostate cancer is another common problem. Like BPH, prostate cancer can cause painful, weak, and frequent urination. Other symptoms of prostate cancer include painful ejaculation, pain in the back, hips, or pelvis, and blood in the urine or semen.

How are prostate issues diagnosed?

Your provider may recommend a prostate specific antigen (PSA) test to detect prostate issues. Prostate cancer can cause elevated PSA levels, but levels may be high for other reasons. If PSA levels are elevated, your provider may recommend other kinds of tests to determine the cause.

The American Urology Association recommends baseline screening beginning at age 45. African American men, those who have a family history of prostate cancer, and others at high risk should start screening at age 40. Your healthcare provider can discuss the pros and cons with you and help you make an informed decision.

What happens if problems are found?

Your primary care provider will refer you to a urologist if BPH or prostate cancer is suspected. Treatment for BPH may include medication and lifestyle changes, laser therapy, or minimally-invasive surgery. Prostate cancer treatment may include hormone therapy, surgery, radiation therapy, or “watchful waiting” if the cancer appears to be slow-growing and is not causing problems. Highly effective options are available, especially when problems are caught early.

Let’s have the conversation

While opening up about your health can be difficult, have the discussion with your primary care provider at your next appointment. Screening is important because about half of men who have prostate cancer will not experience symptoms. Detecting prostate problems early when they are most treatable can extend your quality of life. That means more time up to camp, more hugs from the grandkids, and more chances to cook that perfect steak on the grill.

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