The prostate gland is a firm, round organ about the size of a chestnut. It surrounds the upper part of the urethra (the tube through which urine is emptied from the bladder) and lies underneath the bladder and directly in front of the rectum. The secretions that are produced by the prostate gland are added to semen, the fluid that contains sperm.
Disorders affecting the prostate gland are very common, particularly in men over the age of 30. Prostatitis, in which the prostate gland is inflamed, is the first disorder discussed in this section. Enlargement of the prostate gland is covered next. Some degree of prostate enlargement occurs in most men over the age of 50 and is often viewed as a natural part of aging. The final article covers prostate cancer. In many cases, prostate cancer is not life-threatening, and in older men it may not require treatment because the tumour is often slow-growing and may not affect life expectancy. However, prostate cancer in younger men may spread to other parts of the body more quickly and can be life-threatening. Current research is therefore aimed at developing tests to detect prostate cancer before symptoms start to appear. However, although these tests can help to identify prostate cancer in its early stages, they cannot identify which cancers are more likely to spread and require early treatment.
For further information on the structure and function of the male reproductive system, see Male Reproductive System.
From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.