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How Healthy Is Your Prostate?

The prostate is a unique organ—one that only males have—but one that most people don't see, feel, or think about until it becomes a problem. This is not to say that the prostate does not have a function. It creates a special fluid that protects and enhances the viability of sperm, making it critical for reproduction.

However, as a man ages, the prostate can cause problems that may require medical intervention. To better understand these problems and how to resolve them, it helps to know the basics of prostate health.

Signs to Watch For

The prostate surrounds the urethra and is connected to the bladder. "When it creates problems, it becomes immediately obvious," says Brock O'Neil, MD, an associate professor in the Division of Urology at University of Utah Health. "Usually this is in the form of men having trouble urinating, finding blood in their urine, feeling like they are not able to fully empty their bladders, or having to strain to begin urination."

A man who experiences any of those symptoms should make an appointment to see a doctor. Most of the causes of these symptoms are benign, ranging from an infection in the prostate to the prostate growing larger as the man grows older. There is also the possibility of prostate cancer.

Understanding Prostate Cancer

Prostate cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer in men, but it is not the most common cause of prostate issues. Luckily, prostate cancer is very treatable and survivable, although it can spread to other organs if not caught and treated in time. "Most times, cancer is there before symptoms appear, so it is important to be screened at the right time," says O'Neil.

The right time to consider an initial screening is at the age of 55. If the patient is African American or if there is a strong history of prostate cancer in the family, an initial screening may take place at a younger age.

If the initial screening returns high PSA (prostate specific antigen) numbers, which indicate a higher risk, annual screenings are necessary. If none of these factors are present and it's determined the patient has an average risk of cancer, then the next screening may be three years later or at another time determined by the doctor.

General Guidelines

Prostate health is important, and being aware of common problems and when to see a doctor can make it easy to manage prostate health well into the later stages of life. This can help mitigate the natural issues that come with an aging prostate.