For most young men, the prostate falls into the category “obscure body parts”—that is, it’s in there someplace, it probably does something useful, but it’s best dealt with on a need-to-know basis.
Unfortunately, most men are going to need to know about the prostate sometime, because this little gland is the source of three of the major men’s health problems:
- Prostate cancer, the most common major cancer in men
- Benign enlargement of the prostate ( BPH, or benign prostatic hyperplasia), one of the most common benign tumors in men and a source of symptoms for most men as they age
- Prostatitis, painful inflammation of the prostate, the most common cause of urinary tract infections in men
Worse, because there’s no “statute of limitations” on prostate problems, some men are unlucky enough to endure more than one of these disorders. For example, having BPH or prostatitis doesn’t mean a man won’t have further difficulty—either a return of symptoms or a new problem entirely, such as prostate cancer.
When it comes to making the diagnosis of prostate cancer and planning treatment, the other prostate disorders must be considered, too. So it’s important that men know about all three problems—what they are, how they are treated, and their telltale symptoms.
Fortunately, effective treatment and relief of symptoms is available for all three prostate disorders. Even prostate cancer, when caught early, is treatable—generally without causing loss of urinary control or sexual function. In fact, many prostate cancers may not need to be immediately treated and can be safety followed under a program of active surveillance.
Clinical trials are ongoing to understand which cancers need to be treated aggressively with surgery or radiation, and which can be observed with deferred therapy or no therapy. For the first time ever, we are very close to understanding how to keep advanced cancer in check, perhaps even for years. (The information on this page is adapted from Dr. Patrick Walsh’s Guide to Surviving Prostate Cancer.)