DO YOU have prostate problems? If you are a male and over 40, you could very well begin experiencing them. It is estimated that more than half of the North American male population over 60 years of age has prostate enlargement and about 95 percent of those who reach their 80’s will suffer from this trouble. But what is this gland called the prostate? Where is it, and what does it do?
Shaped like an inverted pyramid, the prostate lies in the lower abdomen under the bladder. It is peculiar to the male but related in tissue type to the female breast. At the time of birth, it is not much larger than an almond. However, with the onset of puberty, it grows to be as big as a chestnut.
The prostate is made up of a well-muscled capsule within which are found 30 to 50 saclike glands. These glands produce the prostatic fluid, without which a man would almost certainly be infertile. The tissue within the glands is folded, allowing for expansion and storage as the fluid is produced. After a male reaches puberty, the sacs begin producing a small amount of fluid each day, which is normally voided with the urine if he has no sexual relations.
Not all the prostate’s functions are known, but its primary purpose seems to be to produce the fluid that nourishes millions of sperm cells and provides them with a medium to swim in. Thus, it is vital for a man’s fertility. It can, though, also cause him problems as he gets older. What are the signs of prostate trouble, and is there anything sufferers can do?
Passing through the prostate is the urethra, the tube that drains the bladder, and herein lies the problem. If the sacs within the prostate gland become infected, inflamed, irritated, or congested with fluid, they may press on the urethra and hinder the elimination of urine. The same is true if the gland itself becomes enlarged.
The early symptoms of this problem usually are almost unnoticed and are much the same regardless of the basic cause. The sufferer may have to get up once or twice during the night to visit the bathroom, something he did not have to do before. Gradually, he has to get up more frequently. Despite feeling an intense need to urinate, the stream is weak and hesitant. He has a feeling of fullness even though he has just been to the bathroom. Now the prostate is making its existence known in a painful, irritating, and sometimes embarrassing way. Understanding why will help men, as well as their wives, to handle the problem.
Several different things can cause prostate problems, and we will briefly discuss them one by one:
Prostatitis: This is an inflammation of the prostate gland and may be either infectious or congestive. Bacteria, such as from a venereal disease like gonorrhea or from an infection in another part of the body, could contribute to inflammation in the gland. Such infections occur in any age group after the prostate gland reaches its adult size.
Congestive prostatitis is more perplexing. This condition is linked by some doctors to sexual activity and erotic thought. Dr. Stanley Brosman of the University of California School of Medicine suggests two reasons for this problem: “irregularity of sexual activity” and “inability of the prostate to empty itself during ejaculation.” Why the prostate gland does not clear itself remains a mystery, however.
Enlargement: Strangely, as a man grows older, the prostate gland may start to enlarge. Although numerous studies have been made, doctors are still baffled as to why this happens. Some suggest that it is due to changes in the body’s hormones. Enlargement may pose no problem for some men. However, as the number of elderly males increases, so does the number of cases of prostate enlargement leading to urination problems.
Cancer: Prostate cancer is among the most common cancers in men. The problem here is that it is seldom detected early. The cancer usually grows slowly, and most men die of other causes before prostatic cancer proves fatal. Essential to locating prostate cancer early is a regular, annual checkup by a doctor, including a rectal examination. With a rubber-gloved finger, the doctor can feel part of the gland and determine if there are any hard, buttonlike nodules, which could mean cancer. If any spots are found, further tests will be performed, including a biopsy, to determine if cancer cells are present.
Just as there are a number of causes of prostate problems, there are several methods of treatment.
Medicine: If prostatitis is caused by an infection, antibiotic treatment is usually used. The doctor may also recommend a restricted diet. Dr. Harvey Gordon writes: “I do believe that the irritative symptoms in posterior urethritis are indeed aggravated by the ingestion of alcohol and spicy foods. Moreover, I suspect that coffee may be similarly indicted.”
Surgery: Cutting away some of the prostate gland can take the pressure off the urethra. Different surgical procedures are used for this. As long as the nerves behind the prostate are not damaged, a man will remain potent. However, he may be infertile. Why? Surgery on the prostate may damage the sphincter muscle that normally closes at the neck of the bladder. As a result, semen will now follow the course of least resistance into the bladder, where it will be voided with the urine.
Cancer treatment: When cancer is discovered, different forms of treatment are available, depending on the state of growth. No single treatment has proved best, but among those available are hormonal treatment, radiation, and laser or conventional surgery. With surgery the gland is removed, resulting almost invariably in impotence.
Diet: Interestingly, studies have been made that show the prostate to be a major center for the concentration of zinc in the body. When a man’s diet is inadequate in zinc, the prostate gland begins to lose this trace element, and some researchers link this with a variety of prostate problems. Many men claim to have found relief for their troubles with the aid of a dietary supplement of zinc.
In discussing this form of treatment, Dr. Monroe Greenberger, a New York urologist, gives sound advice: “To the man who is reaching the age where prostatic problems are most likely to plague him, good diet is essential . . . Although much of the value of zinc, vitamins, and diet to prostatic health is still in the exploratory stage and the statistics are not conclusive, the evidence is convincing enough for me to sit up and listen carefully, and I think others should do the same. However—and this is important in all self-care—never rely only on diet, vitamins, or minerals for good health. See your doctor regularly.”—What Every Man Should Know About His Prostate.