Prostate cancer

Updated 14 February 2018

The lowdown on the prostate

You've heard about it, now find out what all the fuss is about.

The prostate gland is rather intimately associated with a notorious medical procedure charmingly called the digital rectal exam or DRE. Since it’s been parodied in every slap-stick comedy from Police Academy to Jackass, boys and men are aware of this test from an early age and as a result, most of us are way too embarrassed and scared to spend much time thinking about the state of our own prostate.

Major bummer then that prostate cancer is one of the most prevalent cancers among men, especially as they get older. Learning a bit more about it - where it is, what it does and so on - is thus the first step towards lifelong prostate health.

Where is the prostate?

The prostate is a small body about the size of a small plum or a large walnut that is neatly tucked away in the lower pelvis, just in front of the rectum, below the bladder and above the base of the penis. It is wrapped around the urethra, the tube through which both urine from the bladder and sperm from the testicles are excreted from the body via the penis.

What does it do?

The prostate is sometimes referred to as the male G-spot and some men can achieve orgasm through its stimulation. Women actually have a set of glands with similar characteristics known as the Skene’s glands, the paraurethral glands or simply the female prostate.

The prostate, which requires male hormones, most importantly testosterone, produced mainly in the testicles to work properly, has a number of important functions:

• It produces, stores and secretes a slightly alkaline, milky white fluid which constitutes some 25 to 30 percent of the semen ejaculated during sexual intercourse and masturbation (the remainder consists of sperm from the testicles and the fluid produced by the seminal vesicles. The prostatic fluid is expelled together with most of the sperm cells in the first fractions of the ejaculate and promotes the survival of the sperm cells, their motility (i.e. their ability to move independently) and helps to protect the genetic material they carry. The fluid, which is rich in calcium, zinc, citric acid and albumin, also contains a protein called prostate specific antigen (PSA) which keeps the semen liquid and stops it from congealing.

• The prostrate contains muscles that help to expel semen from the urethra during ejaculation and control the flow of urine during urination.

• The urinary sphincter located at the bottom of the prostate closes the urethra during sex and thus prevents urine from mixing with semen.

Prostrate disorders

There are three main things that can go wrong with your prostate:

1. Prostatitis is the inflammation of the prostate gland. There are several different kinds, each treated with a different method.

2. Benign prostatic hyperplasia involves an enlarged prostate and is a condition often found in older men. Since the prostate is wrapped around the urethra, an enlarged prostate frequently leads to a need to urinate frequently, the involuntary discharge of urine and a weak stream of urine. This condition is treated either through medication or surgical intervention.

3. Prostate cancer tends to grow quite slowly and may not spread to other parts of the body for many years, but it remains one of the most common forms of cancer among men and a significant cause of death among them. It afflicts predominantly men over 50 - which is why regular prostate exams are so important from that age onwards - and the symptoms include a difficulty in starting to urinate, bloody urine and painful urination and ejaculation.

Prostate health

Most doctors suggest a balanced diet with less fatty meat, salt, milk and processed foods and more fibre, fruit, vegetables, fish and whole grains as the best way to ensure a healthy prostate. Apparently veggies like cauliflower, broccoli, radishes, turnips, cabbage, bok choy, as well as asparagus, avocado, tomatoes, carrots, rocket, wasabi, watermelons, pawpaw, soy and nuts may be particularly beneficial.

More prostate info:

The dreaded prostate exam

Prostate resources

Prostate cancer

(Andreas Späth, Health24, November 2009)


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