The prostate gland is an important part of the male reproductive system.
The prostate is a gland situated between the bladder and penis, just in front of the rectum, or lower end of the bowel.
The urethra, a narrow tube that carries urine and semen out of the body through the penis, runs through the center of the prostate, which is about the size of a walnut and weighs 1 ounce (30 grams).
The word “prostate” comes from the Greek word “prostates,” which means “one who stands before,” aptly describing the position of the gland.
That is, when viewed from below, the prostate “stands before” the bladder.
The Function of the Prostate
The prostate gland isn’t essential for life, but it is vital for reproduction and is part of the male reproductive system.
The function of the prostate is to produce a slightly alkaline (high pH) fluid that makes up part of the seminal fluid, or semen.
The rest of semen is composed of sperm cells from the testicles, fluid from the seminal vesicles, and secretions from the pea-sized bulbourethral gland.
The prostatic fluid contains substances that are important to the functioning and survival of sperm cells, such as the enzyme prostate-specific antigen (PSA), which thins or loosens up semen, helping the tadpole-like sperm cells swim freely to reach the egg.
During an orgasm, prostate muscles squeeze the gland’s stored fluid into the urethra, where it mixes with the sperm cells and other semen components.
This expulsive process also helps propel the semen out of the body during ejaculation.
Prostatitis, or prostate inflammation, is the most common prostate problem for men under age 50, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK).
There are several types of prostatitis.
Prostatitis caused by bacteria is known as bacterial prostatitis, and it can be acute (short-term) or chronic.
Non-bacteria microbes may cause chronic prostatitis, also known as chronic pelvic pain syndrome, which may develop as a result of chemicals in the urine, a urinary tract infection, or pelvic nerve damage.
Symptoms vary depending on the type of prostatitis, but can include urination problems, pain, fever, and body aches, among other things.
Some people develop asymptomatic inflammatory prostatitis, in which the prostate is inflamed but doesn’t produce any symptoms or require treatment.
Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH)
Prostate enlargement is the most common prostate problem for men over 50 years old, according to the NIDDK.
It’s not well understood what causes prostate enlargement, also known as benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), but research suggests age-related hormonal changes may be to blame.
In men with BPH, the prostate presses into and pinches the urethra.
This pressure can negatively affect the urine-holding bladder, which is connected to the urethra, by weakening it and preventing it from emptying completely.
Prostate enlargement can cause a number of related urination symptoms, including increased urinary frequency and urgency, weak or interrupted urine stream, and urine with an unusual color or smell.
Aside from prostatitis and BPH, another common prostate issue is prostate cancer.
Excluding skin cancer, prostate cancer is the most common type of cancer affecting American men, and one of the leading causes of cancer deaths in American men, according to the American Cancer Society.
The risk of developing prostate cancer is higher for men who are over age 65, African American, and have a family history of the disease.
Most often, prostate cancer develops slowly, but some men develop an aggressive form of prostate cancer.
Symptoms generally develop as the disease progresses, and include urination issues, erectile dysfunction, bloody semen, and bone pain.