Do you know what the prostate does?
If you answered no, then you’re not alone. According to new research, just one-in-four men over the age of 50 know what their prostate does, yet it is an essential part of men’s health, particularly as they get older.
The prostate is about the size of a ping pong ball located between the base of the penis and the rectum. The gland is responsible for supplying seminal fluid that mixes with sperm, helping it survive and travel from the testes, according to the Prostate Cancer Foundation. A variety of conditions can affect the prostate as men get older, including enlargement and cancer.
A survey led by researchers at the European Association of Urology and Boston Scientific polled more than 3,000 men over the age of 50 in the UK, Germany, and France. The 10-question poll asked about how often men experienced certain symptoms and how long they would wait before consulting a doctor. Researchers found that just one in four men were able to identify the prostate’s main function correctly, while a variety of misconceptions were prevalent surrounding prostate health, specifically issues concerning enlarged prostates, benign prostate enlargement (BPE), and hyperplasia (BPH). Just over one-third of respondents were able to correctly identify associated disorders.
"The results are worrying, especially as the survey targeted men in the age group that are most likely to suffer from prostate-related conditions, such as prostate cancer and an enlarged prostate,” explained urologist Hein Van Poppel in a statement. “The incidence of these conditions and their impact on medical practice is only going to become greater due to the aging population, so we must ensure that men are well informed to enable quick consultation and treatment if required."
As men age, the prostate slowly grows, but an abnormal amount of enlarging can be cause for medical concern. (Only one-in-six respondents knew this.) Though its cause is unknown, doctors believe that it could be linked to hormonal changes that come with aging. Almost half of the men between the ages of 50 and 60 were unable to recognize associated symptoms, which can include a sudden urge to urinate, strain or painful sensation when urinating, and getting up to pee more than once at night. Even mild symptoms can impair one’s quality of life and have been linked to increased risk of heart conditions.
Most men said they rarely discuss concerns with family members or their female partners, something researchers say needs to change.
"Previous research showed that women actually know more about men's health issues than men do. Therefore, we encourage men to discuss their urological symptoms and conditions with partners or families, as well as visiting specialized healthcare professionals such as urologists,” said Van Poppel.
Across the board, more than half of respondents said they would speak with their general practitioner about issues involving urinating with only one-quarter reporting that they would “google” their symptoms for more information.
Most men should begin seeking an annual prostate exam at the age of 50, or earlier if family history suggests it.