Introduction 

Prostate problems are common in men, particularly in those over 50 years of age.

On this page, you can read about what the prostate is and the main problems that affect it, which are:

Below is a summary of these conditions, plus links to more detailed information about them.

About the prostate gland

The prostate is a small gland found only in men. It surrounds the urethra (the tube that carries urine out of the body). It sits just below the bladder and the opening of the vas deferens (tube that carries sperm up from the testicles to the urethra).

The prostate gland produces a thick, white fluid that's mixed with sperm to create semen.

The prostate gland is about the size and shape of a walnut, but tends to get bigger as you get older. It can sometimes become swollen or enlarged because of medical conditions such as those outlined below.

Prostate enlargement

Prostate enlargement is a very common condition associated with ageing. Over a third of all men over 50 years of age will have some symptoms of prostate enlargement.

It's not known why the prostate gets bigger as you get older, but it isn't caused by cancer and it doesn't increase your risk of developing prostate cancer.

An enlarged prostate can put pressure on the urethra (see above), which can affect how you urinate.

Signs of an enlarged prostate can include:

  • difficulty starting or stopping urinating
  • a weak flow of urine
  • straining when peeing
  • feeling like you're not able to fully empty your bladder
  • prolonged dribbling after you've finished peeing
  • needing to pee more frequently or more suddenly
  • waking up frequently during the night to pee 

See your GP if you notice any problems with, or changes to, your usual pattern of urination.

Simple measures such as reducing the amount you drink (especially tea, coffee and alcohol) before bed can sometimes help control the symptoms. Medication can help reduce the size of your prostate and relax the muscles of your bladder.

In severe cases that don't get better with medication, the inner part of the prostate can be surgically removed.

Read more about prostate enlargement.

Prostatitis

Prostatitis is where the prostate gland becomes inflamed (swollen). It's sometimes caused by a bacterial infection, although more often no infection can be found and it's not clear why it happened.

Unlike prostate enlargement or prostate cancer – which usually affect older men – prostatitis can develop in men of all ages. However, it's generally more common in men between 30 and 50 years of age.

Symptoms of prostatitis can include:

  • pain in the pelvis, genitals, lower back and buttocks
  • pain when urinating
  • a frequent need to pee
  • difficulty urinating, such as problems starting to pee
  • pain when ejaculating
  • pain in the perineum (the area between the anus and scrotum), which is often made worse by prolonged sitting

See your GP if you have these symptoms.

Prostatitis can be treated using a combination of painkillers and a type of medication known as an alpha-blocker, which can help to relax the muscles of the prostate and bladder neck. Medication that shrinks the prostate gland may also be helpful.

Most men will recover within a few weeks or months, although some will continue to have symptoms for longer.

Read more about prostatitis.

Prostate cancer

In the UK, prostate cancer is the most common type of cancer in men, with over 40,000 new cases diagnosed every year.

It's not clear why it occurs, but your chances of developing prostate cancer increase as you get older. The condition mainly affects men over 65, although men over 50 are also at risk.

The risk of developing prostate cancer is also increased in men who have a first-degree relative (dad or brother) with prostate cancer and in men of Afro-Caribbean origin.

The symptoms of prostate cancer can be difficult to distinguish from those of prostate enlargement (see above). They may include:

  • needing to pee more frequently (often during the night)
  • needing to rush to the toilet
  • difficulty starting to urinate
  • straining or taking a long time while peeing
  • weak flow 
  • a feeling that your bladder hasn't emptied fully

You should see your GP if you have these symptoms. It's much more likely to be prostate enlargement, but it’s important to rule out cancer.

The outlook for prostate cancer is generally good because, unlike many other types of cancer, it usually progresses very slowly. Many men die with prostate cancer, rather than as a result of having it.

Prostate cancer therefore doesn’t always need to be treated immediately. Sometimes it may just be monitored at first and only treated if it gets worse.

Read more about prostate cancer.

Page last reviewed: 29/07/2015

Next review due: 29/07/2017