What is Your Prostate?

Understanding Your Body

Understanding Your Body provides easy-to-understand explanations of body systems and disease conditions. This material can be used for patient education, life sciences curriculum development, or to enhance public understanding of general health concepts. Permission for such use is not required, but citation as to source is requested. The information provided is derived from Consumer Versions of Clinical Practice Guidelines, sponsored by the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research, from 1992 to 1996.
The image shows the internal organs of the male urinary tract.  The diagram shows (from top to bottom) the Kidneys, Ureter, Bladder, Bladder Neck, Prostate, Rectum and Urethra.

The prostate is part of a man's reproductive system. The prostate gland is the size of a walnut. It is found in front of the rectum and just below the bladder, which stores urine. The prostate makes some of the milky fluid (semen) that carries sperm. The prostate wraps around a tube (the urethra) that carries urine from the bladder out through the tip of the penis.

During a man's orgasm (sexual climax), muscles squeeze the prostate's fluid into the urethra. Sperm, which are made in the testicles, also go into the urethra during orgasm. The milky fluid carries the sperm through the penis during orgasm.

The Prostate of Older Men

As men age they have a greater risk of developing an enlarged prostate, a condition called benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), and prostate cancer.

In BPH the enlarged prostate squeezes the urethra, which slows or stops the flow of urine, making it difficult for men to urinate. BPH affects more than half of men over age 60 and about 80 percent of men by age 80. By age 80, as many as 35 percent of men will have undergone surgery to relieve BPH symptoms such as frequent urination, straining to urinate, a weak urine stream, and a sensation that the bladder has not completely emptied. However, watchful waiting should be the standard approach for BPH patients who have mild symptoms.

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer and the second most common cause of cancer death in American men. Men can be screened for prostate cancer with a blood test called a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test or a digital rectal exam, in which the doctor inserts a gloved finger into the rectum to feel the prostate for hard or lumpy areas.

Men diagnosed with prostate cancer have many treatment options. The treatment that is best for one man may not be best for another. Treatment may involve surgery, radiation therapy, hormone therapy, or a combination of these. The doctor may also recommend watchful waiting and begin treatment only if symptoms occur or get worse.

Contents

Current as of November 2007
Internet Citation: What is Your Prostate?: Understanding Your Body. November 2007. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD. http://www.ahrq.gov/patients-consumers/prevention/understanding/bodysys/edbody13.html