Prostate cancer

What is the prostate gland?

The prostate gland is an organ that is located at the base or outlet (neck) of the urinary bladder. (See the diagram that follows.) The gland surrounds the first part of the urethra. The urethra is the passage through which urine drains from the bladder to exit from the penis. One function of the prostate gland is to help control urination by pressing directly against the part of the urethra that it surrounds. The main function of the prostate gland is to produce some of the substances that are found in normal semen, such as minerals and sugar. Semen is the fluid that transports the sperm to assist with reproduction. A man can manage quite well, however, without his prostate gland. (See the section on surgical treatment for prostate cancer.)

In a young man, the normal prostate gland is the size of a walnut (<30g). During normal aging, however, the gland usually grows larger. This hormone-related enlargement with aging is called benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), but this condition is not associated with prostate cancer. Both BPH and prostate cancer, however, can cause similar problems in older men. For example, an enlarged prostate gland can squeeze or impinge on the outlet of the bladder or the urethra, leading to difficulty with urination. The resulting symptoms commonly include slowing of the urinary stream and urinating more frequently, particularly at night. Patients should seek medical advice from their urologist or primary-care physician if these symptoms are present.

Picture of the prostate gland