While there are noticeable physical changes as men get older, some of the most significant changes happen in the reproductive system, which includes the prostate. The prostate is a walnut-sized gland located below the bladder and surrounding the urethra (the tube that carries urine out of the bladder). It is responsible for producing and storing the fluid that makes semen.
Prostate issues are common as men get older. In this article, we discuss age-related prostate problems, non-cancer symptoms to be aware of, prostate cancer symptoms to look for, and questions to ask your doctor.
Enlarged prostate gland
Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BPH) is the medical term for an enlarged prostate gland and is known to affect most men over the age of 40. Although there is no confirmed cause for the prostate to become enlarged, medical professionals cite age as a factor.
It’s normal for the prostate to grow bigger as men age. As a result, a larger prostate might push against the urethra and cause uncomfortable issues with urination. Some of the most common symptoms of an enlarged prostate include:
- A weak or slow urinary stream
- A feeling of incomplete bladder emptying
- Difficulty starting urination
- Frequent urination
- Urgency to urinate
- Getting up frequently at night to urinate
- A urinary stream that starts and stops
- Straining to urinate
- Continued dribbling of urine
- Returning to urinate again minutes after finishing
BPH is not cancer and is typically not a serious condition – however, the symptoms can negatively impact a man’s quality of life. If you’re experiencing any of the above signs, take our BPH quiz to measure the severity of your symptoms which can be used as a starting point for your doctor.
Prostatitis is inflammation of the prostate that could come from a viral infection and impacts 10-15% of men in the United States. Some of the most common symptoms of prostatitis include:
- Difficulty urinating
- A stinging or burning sensation when urinating
- A consistent feeling of the need to urinate, even though only small amounts of urine come out
- Lower back pain
- Low belly pain
- Throbbing in the genital and rectal regions
- Sexual issues and lack of sex drive
- Pain when ejaculating
Many assessments like a Digital Rectal Exam (DRE) and a urine examination can diagnose prostatitis.
Different types of prostatitis
- Acute bacterial prostatitis – This kind is produced by a viral infection that comes quickly and without warning. Symptoms include chills, fever, and blood in the urine.
- Chronic bacterial prostatitis – This kind of prostatitis doesn’t occur suddenly, but it can be irritating. The only sign you might have is a recurrence of bladder infections.
- Chronic prostatitis or chronic pelvic pain syndrome – This condition is common but not very well understood. It’s prevalent in men of all ages and its symptoms can occur and leave with no warning.
- Asymptomatic inflammatory prostatitis – There are no symptoms of this disorder. It’s often uncovered when going through assessments for separate conditions, such as prostate cancer.
Symptoms of prostate cancer
Speak with your doctor immediately if you are experiencing any abnormalities with your prostate, in the prostate’s general area, or with urination.
The symptoms of prostate cancer vary greatly and can be similar to those of non-cancer conditions such as BPH and prostatitis, including:
- Trouble in passing urine and emptying the bladder completely
- Sudden urgent need to urinate, especially at night
- Burning sensation or pain while passing urine
- Presence of seminal fluid or blood in the urine
- Continuous pain in the back, hip or pelvic area
Warning signs to look for are:
- Symptoms of anemia
- Pain during ejaculation and a weak or interrupted flow of sperm
- Erectile dysfunction
- Unexplained weight loss
Tests that can detect prostate cancer at an early stage are the Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) test, a Digital Rectal Exam (DRE), Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan, and a prostate biopsy.
Some men don’t experience symptoms at all, which highlights the importance of discussing prostate issues with your doctor so you can make an informed decision about cancer screening.
Questions to ask your doctor
- What prostate changes can I expect as I get older?
- What are my risks for developing prostate cancer?
- What red flags should I look for?
- At what age should I start prostate cancer screening?
- Will changes in my diet and exercise reduce my risk of developing prostate cancer?
- Is there anything I can do to prevent an enlarged prostate?
- What treatments and medications are available for prostate conditions?
American Cancer Society. (2015, March 12). Prostate Cancer. Atlanta, GA: American Cancer Society. Retrieved: http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/cid/documents/webcontent/003134-pdf.pdf.