male urinary system; ureter, bladder, prostate gland, urethra, epididymis, vas deferens, testicle
The male urinary system, including the prostate.

What is benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH)?

Benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) is a condition in which the prostate, a walnut-sized body part made of glandular and muscular tissue, grows in size. The prostate surrounds part of the urethra, which is the tube that carries urine and sperm out of the body. The benign (noncancerous) condition is also called benign prostatic enlargement (BPE).

The prostate is located directly beneath the bladder and in front of the rectum. The urethra passes through the prostate, so if the prostate becomes enlarged, it can keep urine or semen from passing through the urethra.

The main function of the prostate is to produce fluid for the semen, the milky fluid in which sperm swims. Sperm is produced in the testicles, which also make the main male hormone testosterone. During puberty, testosterone stimulates the growth and function of the prostate, and helps with the production of fluid for semen.

How common is benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH)?

BPH is the most common prostate problem in men. Almost all men will develop some enlargement of the prostate as they grow older. By age 60, 50% of men will have some signs of BPH; by age 85, 90% of men will have signs of the condition. About half of these men will develop symptoms that need to be treated.

Does having benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) increase the risk of prostate cancer?

Based on research to date, having BPH does not seem to increase the risk of developing prostate cancer. However, BPH and prostate cancer have similar symptoms, and a man who has BPH may have undetected cancer at the same time.

To help detect prostate cancer in its early stages, the American Urological Association and the American Cancer Society recommend a prostate screening every year for men ages 55 to 69. They also recommend that men who are at high risk – such as African-American men and men who have a family history of prostate cancer – begin screening at age 40. Screening tests for prostate cancer include a blood test for a substance called prostate-specific antigen (PSA) and the digital rectal exam (DRE).

What are the symptoms of benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH)?

Since the prostate gland surrounds the urethra (the tube that carries urine outside the body), it is easy to understand that enlargement of the prostate can lead to blockage of the tube. Therefore, you may develop:

  • Slowness or dribbling of your urinary stream.
  • Hesitancy or difficulty starting to urinate.
  • Frequent urination.
  • Feeling of urgency (sudden need to urinate).
  • Need to get up at night to urinate.
  • Pain after ejaculation or while urinating.
  • Urine that looks or smells "funny" (for instance, it's a different color).

The enlargement of the prostate can lead to blockage of the urethra.

As symptoms get worse, you may develop:

If you have any of these symptoms, see your doctor right away:

  • Pain in the area of the lower abdomen or genitals while urinating.
  • Can’t urinate at all.
  • Pain, fever and/or chills while urinating.
  • Blood in the urine.

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