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May 3, 2018

Prostate Symptoms Should Not Be Ignored

Let’s be honest: men often don’t want to talk about some things and that includes prostate health. That is why I am addressing this column to not only men, but women, too.

Men Sometimes Wary of Bringing Up Problems

Let’s be honest: men often don’t want to talk about some things and that includes prostate health. That is why I am addressing this column to not only men, but women, too, so they are aware of issues the men in their lives may be dealing with and perhaps encourage them to seek medical attention.

The prostate is a walnut-sized gland that is a part of the male reproductive system and sits below the bladder. Prostate gland enlargement is a common condition men face as they get older. An enlarged prostate gland causes uncomfortable urinary symptoms, such as blocking the flow of urine out of the bladder, and problems with the bladder, urinary tract or kidneys. Common symptoms include more frequent or urgent need to urinate, increased frequency of needing to use the bathroom at night, difficulty starting urination and weak urine stream or a stream that starts and stops. Symptoms worsen over time. Anyone with these symptoms should talk them over with his doctor. Left untreated, an enlarged prostate can lead to a sudden inability to urinate, cause urinary tract infections and bladder or kidney damage.

A physician will diagnose an enlarged prostate by conducting a digital rectal exam to check the size of the prostate, checking a sample of urine to rule out an infection that can cause similar health problems and running a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test. Produced by the prostate, PSA levels increase when someone has an enlarged prostate although elevated levels can be caused by infection, recent surgery or prostate cancer.

If a patient has an enlarged prostate, medication is normally the first treatment option. Several different types of medication either relax the bladder neck muscles and muscle fibers in the prostate or that shrink the size of the prostate. If a patient has severe symptoms or medication is not working, minimally invasive surgery options are available.

In addition to an enlarged prostate, prostate cancer is another health concern for men. Prostate cancer is one of the most common cancers in men. The cancer usually grows slowly and confined to the prostate gland, but some types can be aggressive and spread to other parts of the body. Prostate cancer symptoms are similar to an enlarged prostate, including decreased force in the stream of urine or trouble urinating. Additional symptoms include blood in the semen, discomfort in the pelvic area, bone pain and erectile dysfunction. Please see your medical provider if you have any of these symptoms.

The risk of prostate cancer increases as you age and there is also a genetic link so please let your physician know if you have a family history of prostate cancer and/or breast cancer. African-American men carry a greater risk of having an aggressive type of prostate cancer.

Screening tests for prostate cancer include the PSA test and digital rectal exam. If the results are positive, an ultrasound maybe scheduled to provide the doctor with a closer look of the prostate.

If a man does have prostate cancer, several treatments are available, including surgery or radiation. Hormone therapy, which decreases the amount of testosterone levels, is another option for men with advanced cancer to shrink or slow the growth of tumors.

Please note that depending on the size and location of cancer no treatment may be necessary. If that is the case, there will be regular follow-up blood tests and rectal exams to monitor the progression of the cancer. If those tests show the cancer is growing, surgery or radiation therapy may be recommended.

As men get older, prostate health becomes a larger issue. It is vital men report any health changes such as making more trips to the bathroom or noticing a change in their urine stream to their medical provider. These are not fun symptoms to deal with, but there are treatment options available.

And to the women out there: If your husband is complaining about any of these symptoms, please encourage him to see a physician. Whether their problems are caused by an enlarged prostate or prostate cancer, they need to be addressed before they become too serious.

Andrew Maes, DO, is a urologist at ThedaCare Medical Center-Berlin.