What is situated below a body of water, has four zones and is commonly associated with venial pleasures. No it is not some romantic European city, but rather a walnut sized male organ that serves important procreative functions. It also happens to be an organ that plagues men as we age. This organ or gland is the prostate. This is the first of two articles on the male prostate. This article will focus on a disease process that affects older men, something we refer to as benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). BPH is a non-cancerous growth in the size of the prostate gland that impairs the flow of urine out of the bladder. The second article will focus of prostate cancer.
But first a little about the small yet important male organ. The gland is located just below the bladder. It usually measures one inch by one-and-a-half inches (approximately the size of a walnut). It surrounds the urethra Nitridex (the tube that takes urine out of the bladder). It is responsible for producing a fluid important in male sexual function.
In the past the prostate was described as having “lobes”, but today we refer to it as having concentric zones. These zones are important both on an anatomical as well as histological level. We can separate pathology along these zones as well. For instance most all cancers occur in the peripheral zone while the benign process of enlargement occurs almost exclusively in the transitional zone (which only occupies about 5% of the total prostate volume).
The prostate gland is also made up of different cell types. Cancer cells develop from the epithelial cells, but it is the interaction with stromal cells that is important in the behavior of the cancer. BPH develops from an interaction between these cells as well, but it is complex and poorly understood. Testosterone and other hormones and their interactions with this gland are hot topics of research in understanding prostate disease.
The prostate gland produces most of what is found in the male ejaculate. The average volume is about 3 mL. This is less than a teaspoon and only 1% of it is sperm. The majority of the semen volume is made of products of the seminal vesicles and the prostate. The male ejaculate is very rich in potassium, zinc, citric acid and fructose. Along with these substances it also contains prostaglandins. There are many other unusual substances found in the semen. Not all is know about their function or purpose.
This important male organ is a complex mix of anatomical structures and cell types that make it possible for human reproduction. However beyond the reproductive years of men, this organ becomes one of burden rather than usefulness. We will discuss the finer points of BPH and how to best avoid it and if plagued with it, treatment options.
BPH typically affects men from their fourth to fifth decade of life and beyond. Several hormones come into play that have a drastic effect on the transitional zone (the zone that is most central and surrounding the urethra). Namely a metabolite of the male androgen Testosterone called Dihydrotestosterone (DHT) plays a big part on the enlargement of cells of the prostate and the encroachment on the urethra. There are several signs and symptoms that correlate with BPH and they are: slow urinary flow, the urge to urinate all the time, nighttime urination, enlargement and distension of the bladder with continuous urine leakage (incontinence) and urinary obstruction. Autopsies suggest that more than 90% of men older than 70 years have BPH. The average age for symptomatic development is about 65 years for white Americans and about 60 years for African-American men.
Ways to prevent the effects of DHT on the prostate gland and the ensuing enlargement are via medications that block the enzyme 5-alpha-reductase, which converts Testosterone to DHT. Proscar is such a drug commercially available through a pharmaceutical company. Proscar works on blocking the effects of androgens on the epithelial cells and can actually shrink the size of the prostate making some of the symptoms of BPH resolve.
Alternatively two FDA approved drugs that aid in symptoms of BPH (but act differently than Proscar) are Hytrin and Cardura. Both Hytrin and Cardura are drugs in the alpha1-blocker class. Originally researched as a centrally acting blood pressure reducer for patient with hypertension, it was discovered that this drug would actually relax the prostate tissue surrounding the urethra making symptoms of BPH resolve. Side effects generally include low blood pressure, dizziness, and nasal stuffiness. While neither of these two drugs will “cure” or reverse the process, they certainly do provide symptom relief for the patient plagued with BPH.
Another way to treat this disease and a more natural approach is the use of herbs know for their anti-androgenic effects on the prostate. These include the well-studied Saw Palmetto herbal extract that blocks 5-alpha-reductase in the same manner as the prescription drug. Saw Palmetto taken in a standardized dose of 160mg twice daily has shown increased urine flow, with minimal side effects. Saw Palmetto is an herb indigenous to the Lowcountry of Georgia and South Carolina. Pygeum Africanum is shown to do the same yet it is not as effective and there is a fair degree of stomach symptoms. Pygeum is derived from an African evergreen tree. Stinging Nettles (Radix urticae) is another herb used widely in Europe for prostate health that has been shown to lower the residual urine volume in men with enlarged prostates. These phytotherapeutics (plant derived medicines), used and described by the Egyptians as far back as the 15 Century B.C., have a common compounds called phytosterols. The most effective phytosterol is beta sito sterol for BPH.
None of the medications or herbs has been shown to prevent prostate cancer. These prescription medications and herbs are for the treatment, reduction in size or prevention of the benign process of enlargement of the prostate. Prostate cancer prevention and treatment is by other means and the subject of the next article.
Besides the herbal and drug therapies there are a few surgical therapies worth mentioning. These include the most common transurethral resection of the prostate or TURP. This is where under the care of an urologist the constricted urethra within the prostate gland is “reamed out” thus mechanically or surgically widened the opening. A variant of this is the transurethral incision of the prostate (TUIP) where an incision rather than resection of the tissue is performed. A suitable procedure for patients with prostates 100 mL in volume. This involves an abdominal operation and removal of the whole prostate. Of course symptoms mentioned above for TURP are of greater frequency with this more radical procedure. There is also thermotherapy (a type of microwave treatment) that alleviates irritative symptoms, but not much is available in long-term results in the medical literature. And finally stent placement is an option. This can be used in selected cases of patients with a poor general condition and in the non-operative candidate.
Symptoms of BPH include:
Hesitancy in initiating voiding (trouble getting started)
Weak urinary stream, prolonged voiding
Post-voiding dribbling (mild incontinence)
Sensation of incomplete emptying
Nocturia (night time urination)
Acute urinary retention (very painful condition)
Dysuria (discomfort in urination)
The American Urological Association Symptom Index (AUASI) and International Prostate Symptom Score (IPSS) are now considered the gold standard measurement tools for the assessment of BPH symptoms and response to treatment. Both questionnaires can be used by a physician in a clinical practice to quantify the subjective symptoms of BPH and monitor therapies.
Part II in this series will cover annual examination of the prostate, blood testing, prostate cancer. It will also cover prevention and treatment of prostate cancer.