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What Treatments Are Available for an Enlarged Prostate?

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What Treatments Are Available for an Enlarged Prostate?

Jul 10, 2020

For men diagnosed with benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), there are various treatment options—from lifestyle changes, medication, to surgery. Men may be overwhelmed by the amount of options available and fearful of potential side effects. Urologist Dr. Stephen Summers explains what treatments are available and which options may work best for you.

Episode Transcript

Interviewer: For men who have been diagnosed with an enlarged prostate, there are a lot of treatment options, but it can be a little overwhelming. And some men fear about the side effects of those treatment options. We're going to sort through that today.

Dr. Stephen Summers is a urologist at University of Utah Health, and he's going to help us better understand the treatment options available for an enlarged prostate and, more importantly, understand what you would want to weigh as a patient when you're having a discussion with your physician or urologist about those different treatment options. So you were telling me that sometimes men put off treating an enlarged prostate because of the fear of side effects. So let's start there. Treatment options have side effects. Do they all have side effects?

Treatments & Side Effects

Dr. Summers: Unfortunately, any treatment option will have side effects. So the first one, I guess, that has the fewest side effects is lifestyle modification. So if you can lose weight and improve your diet, cut out caffeine, you may have some benefit. But once we start talking about medications and surgical treatment, it's a matter of weighing the side effect with the benefit that you expect to see.

Interviewer: Okay. So can you talk us through that a little bit? So, if I understand, the hierarchy is lifestyle changes first. And you've given us a great reason to want to do that to avoid the side effects of medication. But then it would be medication next. So talk us through, what are some of the options there?

Medication for an Enlarged Prostate: Alpha Blockers

Dr. Summers: Yeah. There are three categories of medications. But primarily, we start with alpha blockers. And the most common medication used is a medication called Flomax or tamsulosin. It works to open up the prostate and the bladder neck to allow the urine to flow through a little bit easier. 

Medication Side Effects

For the most part, it's well tolerated, but the side effects that bother men with taking that medication can be dizziness. And so you get up all of a sudden, you may have some lightheadedness or a possibility of fainting. And the other one is something called retrograde ejaculation or a sexual side effect. And that is when a man orgasms, instead of having the semen come forward out the end of the penis, it goes backwards into the bladder. And that certainly can be concerning to a lot of men and is one of the main side effects of a lot of different treatments for prostate enlargement.

Interviewer: Is that something I should be concerned about?

Dr. Summers: No. It is a concern if you're planning to father more kids. Obviously, that is an important part of reproduction. But in terms of your overall health, it doesn't make a big difference. It doesn't impact the sensation of orgasm too much, but it's highly individual. In some men, that can be a real bother.

Interviewer: Yeah. Sure. Like I would imagine a lot of these side effects are going to be very individual.

Medication for an Enlarged Prostate: 5a-Reductase Inhibitors

Dr. Summers: Sure. Yeah. The other medications that we use, there is a medication that falls into a class called 5α-reductase inhibitors. There's a medication called finasteride or Proscar or Avodart or dutasteride,. These medications get at the effect of testosterone on the prostate. So they block the effect of testosterone on the prostate growth and over time can cause some shrinkage of the prostate. They are very slow medications to work, and you have to continue on those medications for life once you start them if you're going to experience the benefit of the treatment for them. 

Medication Side Effects

The main side effects with those can be erectile dysfunction, problems with mood, energy level. It can cause occasional breast enlargement in men. And it does have the side effect of causing hair regrowth. So the medication that was commonly prescribed called Propecia is in this class of drugs. But there are more substantial sexual side effects, I will say.

Interviewer: Why would a man choose this particular treatment then over maybe the first one?

Dr. Summers: No. That's a good question. So, oftentimes, they're combined. So we will use both medications. There's pretty good data out there to suggest that both of them work almost synergistically together than using either one alone. The other advantage with the finasteride, that we were just talking about, is it does reduce the progression of symptoms and severity of the disease, and so you can reduce the risk of progression to the point where one might need surgery by about half. And so there are clear benefit with that.

Interviewer: And you said the one that you have to take for life, say I started, at six months later, I'm like, "Ah, these side effects, I can't live with these." Am I able to then take a different treatment option?

Dr. Summers: Sure. You can always change the treatment option. There is some controversy though, and I think it's important for men to know that there have been some men that have had persistent side effects even after stopping that medication.

Interviewer: Okay.

Dr. Summers: So some of those sexual side effects have lasted even once they've come off of it. Now, that's a very small percentage of men, but certainly, if you're one of those patients, that's going to be a concern for you.

Interviewer: Yeah. And then there's a third category of drugs as well?

Bladder Medication for Enlarged Prostate

Dr. Summers: Yeah. The other category of drugs works primarily on the bladder. It relaxes the bladder, so it treats the symptoms of the disease, but does nothing really to the prostate. And so you're really putting a Band-Aid on treating the symptom, the frequency, the urgency, the getting up at night, but you're not really addressing the problem. So a lot of times we'll use those medications in combination with these other drugs to help lessen or minimize the symptoms as we're focusing on the problem of the prostate itself.

Interviewer: All right. So it sounds like that, you know, you need to have a conversation with your physician about the risks and benefits of the medication. At that point, if that doesn't work or is it possible that a man just might not choose to do the medications because of the side effects that they would move on to surgery. Let's talk about that as a treatment option.

Enlarged Prostate Surgery

Dr. Summers: You bring up a great point. Sometimes we consider surgery even before medications when you're trying to minimize some of those side effects. So there are a couple of new or recently developed treatments that I think are important to highlight here. And I highlight them specifically because they do not have those sexual side effects that are so common with the medications. And we call them minimally invasive surgical treatments. They're done in the office with a local anesthetic. So it's a very quick recovery with little downtime or little missed work.


The first of those treatments is something called a UroLift. That is a device that is implanted in the prostate that holds back that prostate obstructing tissue and opens up the channel to allow the urine to flow through easier. The advantage with it is it's done relatively quickly in the office. A lot of men do not even have to have a catheter following that procedure, and it doesn't have any of the sexual side effects. So there's no risk of erectile dysfunction, there's no risk of retrograde ejaculation, and there's no risk of urinary incontinence following that procedure. Unfortunately, not all men are candidates for that procedure. It depends a little bit on prostate size and anatomy. But it can be a great option for a lot of men.

Interviewer: And are there other surgical options that you discuss with your patients?


Dr. Summers: Sure. I think it's important to really know all of the options, and so I like to review everything with my patients prior to entertaining any one of them. Another office-based procedure that we do is something called Rezūm. Rezūm uses steam or water vapor therapy in an effort to shrink or ablate and remove prostate tissue. And so, similarly, it's done in the office under a local anesthetic and with some mild sedation. We go in and I inject the prostate with the steam. And depending on the size of the prostate, you may get anywhere from 4 to 10 or even higher injections. And that steam destroys the prostate tissue, shrinks it down and opens up the urinary channel. Men following that procedure do have to have a catheter for a few days. The recovery can be a little bit longer, but there are no restrictions. You're able to go back to work as soon as you're able to tolerate things. It similarly does not have any risk of sexual side effects, including erectile dysfunction or retrograde ejaculation, and no risk of incontinence.

Interviewer: Is this one a little bit more of an option for men than the previous one? Because you said the previous one, you know, some men would not necessarily be a good candidate for it.

Dr. Summers: Yeah. So it has the ability to tailor the treatment a little bit more to a broader range of prostate anatomy, so different prostate sizes and three-dimensional constructs of the prostate. But both of them are, you know, often used interchangeably, and both are good options for a lot of men that are hopeful to avoid some of the bigger surgeries.

Interviewer: Is there a reason why a man might pick one surgery over the other if they were eligible for either one?

Which Surgical Option is Right for Me?

Dr. Summers: A lot of times it comes down to the recovery. It comes down to experience, provider preference too, and duration, you know, how long we've been doing those treatments and what's the long-term data and retreatment rates for each of those. So, you know, it gets into a little bit more in-depth discussion that I try to tailor to the individual. When they come seeking one of those treatments, we kind of look at the data and say, you know, "This is what I have that's published based on this treatment. And how does that fit with kind of your expectations and the symptoms that we're looking to treat?"

Interviewer: Getting close to wrapping this up, are there other options that we haven't covered yet that we should?

Transurethral Resection of the Prostate

Dr. Summers: You know, I think one of the common questions I get in surgical treatments that a lot of men that talk about it is the TURP, and that stands for transurethral resection of the prostate. For some reason, men affectionately call it the rotor-rooter. It's an older treatment -- it's better around, you know, almost 100 years -- where urologists go in and using a resection knife in the operating room, with the patient asleep, we hollow out the prostate. It's still a commonly practiced procedure. Most urologists do a lot of them. It still has its place. And technology, of course, has improved as have the side effects. So we've, you know, gotten better at that procedure. But I think a lot of men come thinking that is their only option. And, unfortunately, they have, you know, all had a friend that has had this done and has had maybe a complication, and they fear and procrastinate putting off treatment because of some of the side effects of this older treatment option.

Is the Prostate Removed During Surgery?

Interviewer: So did I miss something there? I guess I assumed that the surgeries would remove the prostate. And I don't know that I heard any of the things you talked about actually explicitly say removing the prostate.

Dr. Summers: Yeah. That's a common question we get too, and it's a bit confusing when you look at pictures of the prostate. So most of the treatment for benign prostate disease does not remove the entire prostate. We're removing the inside glandular portion of the prostate that's obstructing the urine flow. That is contrasted and much different than an operation that we do for prostate cancer. So if a man has prostate cancer, most of the time that cancer is on the outside of the prostate, and we have to remove the entire prostate. Whereas with benign prostate disease or BPH, that growth or enlargement is on the inner part of the prostate that's obstructing and pushing on the urethra.

Interviewer: And then does that affect the function of the prostate? Is it no longer functional at that point?

Dr. Summers: Once you remove the whole prostate, yeah. Certainly, it's no longer functional. In terms of removing a portion of it, you do lose some function. The function of the prostate is to secrete supporting fluid in your semen for sperm. And so, for most men that were treating prostate enlargement, that is less of an issue. But certainly, if you're a younger patient still planning on fertility or have fertility concerns, then we need to weigh that in with what treatment options we're considering.

Interviewer: Final question. How can a man go into this meeting with their urologist, armed and ready to have this conversation, other than listening to this great interview, of course?

Appointment Preparation

Dr. Summers: Yeah. I think just being open and honest about what your symptoms are, kind of what your priority is, knowing that there are side effects and risks with any of these treatments, what's important for you. Is it that we're treating your nighttime symptoms? Are we improving your flow or your frequency? If you can identify what really bothers you the most, then I can tailor the treatment to fix or improve that symptom. It's really hard to certainly change things and reverse things to make it a 100% better, but if you can tell me what bothers you most, then I can highlight that and incorporate that into our treatment.