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The P-Word Men Don’t Want to Talk About

Research shows men are less likely than women to see a doctor when they need medical care and almost a third don’t even have a regular doctor. They’re also less likely to use preventive healthcare services. In general, men are private about their healthcare needs. So it’s not hard to believe that men don’t want to talk about the p-word—prostate.

The prostate is a walnut-sized gland located just below the male bladder. It’s prone to three main conditions:

  • Benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH)—aging-related enlargement of the prostate gland
  • Prostatitis—infection or inflammation of the prostate
  • Prostate cancer—growth of cancerous cells inside the prostate which can break out of the gland and affect other parts of the body

According to the Urology Care Foundation, an enlarged prostate is almost inevitable—it happens to about half of all men by age 60 and almost all men by age 80. An enlarged prostate gland can cause uncomfortable urinary symptoms. Often, this can be treated with medication; if drugs don’t work some procedures can be done to open up the blockage.

Prostatitis often causes painful or difficult urination. The condition has a number of causes. Sometimes the cause isn’t identified. If prostatitis is caused by a bacterial infection, it can usually be treated with antibiotics. There’s no sure way to prevent getting this condition, but many small lifestyle changes can help keep your prostate gland healthy (see below). Some treatments for an enlarged prostate can also help with the symptoms of prostatitis.

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men and it’s one of the most treatable. It’s usually a slow-growing cancer, which means that it doubles in size every two-three years rather than every four-six months like most other cancers. Unfortunately, there aren’t many early symptoms which is why it’s important to have prostate exams.

African American, Hispanic, and Native American men, men who eat high-fat diets, and men with a family history of prostate cancer are at higher risk for developing prostate cancer.

Prostate cancer screenings are recommended for men beginning at age 50 unless they’re in one of the high-risk categories. Men with a higher risk should start screenings at 45. A prostate cancer screening should include a digital rectal exam and blood test for prostate-specific antigen. If you’ve never had a screening or it’s been a long time, talk with your doctor.

Like with most other health conditions, prevention can help reduce your risks with some prostate issues.

  • Eat healthy—at least five servings of fruits and veggies a day; whole-grains; limit red meat and processed meats; healthy fats (olive oils, nuts, avocados); limit saturated fats; reduce sugar and salt intake; watch portion size.
  • Stay active—studies show men who are active (especially aerobic activity) are less likely to have BPH.
  • Manage your weight
  • Reduce stress

The good news is prostate conditions are treatable, especially if caught early. If you have any of these symptoms, see your doctor right away:

  • Frequent urge to urinate
  • Need to get up many times during the night to urinate
  • Blood in urine or semen
  • Pain or burning when urinating
  • Painful ejaculation
  • Frequent pain or stiffness in lower back, hips, pelvic or rectal area, or upper thighs
  • Dribbling of urine

Sources: American Urological Association, Harvard Health Publishing, National Institute on Aging, National Institute of Health, Urology Care Foundation.

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