The prostate gland is the only organ in our body that keeps growing as we get older; all our other organs shrink and atrophy over time. A healthy prostate gland weighs around half an ounce (15 grams) in young men, and an ounce (30 grams) or more in men who are 50 or older. However, the prostate can weigh over 100 grams, in some cases causing problems with urination.
Although an enlarged prostate doesn’t inevitably lead to problems, one-third of all men older than 60 have benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) that causes urinary symptoms. The most common urinary symptoms are:
— Frequent urination.
— A slow, weak stream of urine—there may be a lot of stopping and starting.
— A feeling of urgency when you feel like voiding.
— Painful, almost total blockage (this requires immediate medical treatment).
If you are having any of these urinary symptoms, in addition to a urine test to rule out a bladder infection, you will need an ultrasound scan to measure the size of your prostate gland, and to determine the nature and seriousness of the problem.
In most cases BPH can be treated with a category of medications, known as alpha blockers, that relax the prostate and make urinating easier. The best known of these is Flomax (generic name: tamsulosin). Another standard treatment is Proscar (generic name: finasteride) that works to shrink the size of the gland and, therefore, reverse the problem of slow urination from prostate enlargement.
However, if your symptoms are severe and/or multiple, you may require treatments using microwave, laser or electrical energy. Or if total blockage occurs, your urologist will perform transurethral resection of the prostate (TURP), a surgical procedure that removes the prostate tissue that is blocking the flow of urine. This procedure is sometimes referred to as a “rotor-rooter job.”
BPH is the most common reason for urinary problems in older men. But equally important is the fact that an enlarged prostate causes a rise in PSA. The reason for this elevation is because the level of PSA measured in the blood is not only proportionate to the number of cancer cells in the prostate gland, but also to the size of the gland. If, therefore, the PSA level is appropriate for the size of the prostate, and if ultrasound imaging fails to reveal any sign of cancer, chances are the PSA elevation originates from BPH. In which case, active surveillance with regular PSA testing and occasional prostate imaging is, without a doubt, preferable to biopsy.
But the overwhelming concern of most doctors is that they might miss cancer in their patients. That concern, plus our own fear of the disease, far too often makes us jump to an immediate, unnecessary biopsy. And here’s a fact to tape to your shaving mirror:
--More than half the prostate biopsies performed annually
in the U.S. are done for evaluation of an elevated PSA
caused by Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia.
Isn’t it time we got smarter and started acting out of knowledge, instead of out of panic? And to remember what the “Benign” in BPH stands for?
VIDEO: Learn more about High PSA, Multiparametric MRI and random biopsies http://youtu.be/6QgcfVBzFNs