Prostate: Definition, What Is It, What Is It For?

Prostate cancer is the most commonly detected cancer in men. But what is the prostate and what is it for?

Prostate: Definition, What Is It, What Is It For?
Prostate: Definition, What Is It, What Is It For?

Definition: What is the Prostate?

The prostate is a small gland found only in humans. It surrounds the initial part of the urethra, just below the bladder. The size of a chestnut, it often remains unnoticed until it begins to cause problems around a certain age.

The prostate contracts during ejaculation and retracts during urination. It plays a role in the male reproductive system, wherein it secretes and stores part of the seminal fluid, the fluid which represents the majority of the sperm.

The prostate secretes a clear liquid that is spilled into the urethra during sexual arousal. This alkaline liquid (pH greater than 7) reduces the acidity of the vaginal secretions by preceding the spermatozoa and prevents them from being destroyed.

Prostate and Hypertrophy

The volume of the prostate increases during childhood and adolescence, stabilizing in adulthood. Once stabilized it measures on average 30 millimeters in height with a mass of 15-20 grams. However, once an individual hits 35-40 years old, the prostate usually begins to increase in volume once again, and continues to increase with age. The gland can grow to be several times its initial volume: this is called hypertrophy.

According to statistics, more than 50% of men over the age of 60 years old, and more than 90% of those over the age of 80 years old will develop hypertrophy. This disorder is most often mild and not cancerous. However, it can still cause some complications.

Prostate and Urinary Disorders

Because of its location, prostate problems can cause urinary disorders. This is because the gland surrounds the initial part of the urethra (the channel through which the urine passes and the sperm is expelled at the tip of the penis). When the prostate increase in volume, it can compress the canal and disrupt urination (decreased jet, frequent urge to urinate). It can also lead to urinary tract infections and eventually cause kidney problems.

Prostate and Digital Rectal Examination

In order to detect a possible prostate disorder, a doctor will perform a digital rectal examination that will assess the volume and flexibility of the prostate. An abnormal size, irregular contours, and hardening may be early signs of an issue.

It can be an infection of the prostate (prostratitis), a prostate adenoma, or - more seriously - a prostate cancer. In the case of a cancerous tumour, removal of the prostate may be considered. This gland is not a vital structure. Nevertheless, it can lead to urinary difficulties and sexual issues.