It is common for the prostate gland to become enlarged as a man ages. Doctors call this condition benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), or benign prostatic hypertrophy.
As a man matures, the prostate goes through two main periods of growth. The first occurs early in puberty, when the prostate doubles in size. At around age 25, the gland begins to grow again. This second growth phase often results, years later, in BPH.
Though the prostate continues to grow during most of a man's life, the enlargement doesn't usually cause problems until late in life. BPH rarely causes symptoms before age 40, but more than half of men in their sixties and as many as 90 percent in their seventies and eighties have some symptoms of BPH.
As the prostate enlarges, the layer of tissue surrounding it stops it from expanding, causing the gland to press against the urethra like a clamp on a garden hose. The bladder wall becomes thicker and irritable. The bladder begins to contract even when it contains small amounts of urine, causing more frequent urination. Eventually, the bladder weakens and loses the ability to empty itself, so some of the urine remains in the bladder. The narrowing of the urethra and partial emptying of the bladder cause many of the problems associated with BPH.
Many people feel uncomfortable talking about the prostate, since the gland plays a role in both sex and urination. Still, prostate enlargement is as common a part of aging as gray hair. As life expectancy rises, so does the occurrence of BPH. In the United States in 2000, there were 4.5 million visits to physicians for BPH.
Benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), also known as benign prostatic hypertrophy, is a histologic diagnosis characterized by proliferation of the cellular elements of the prostate. Cellular accumulation and gland enlargement may result from epithelial and stromal proliferation, impaired preprogrammed cell death (apoptosis), or both. BPH involves the stromal and epithelial elements of the prostate arising in the periurethral and transition zones of the gland. The hyperplasia presumably results in enlargement of the prostate that may restrict the flow of urine from the bladder.
BPH is considered a normal part of the aging process in men and is hormonally dependent on testosterone and dihydrotestosterone (DHT) production. An estimated 50% of men demonstrate histopathologic BPH by age 60 years. This number increases to 90% by age 85 years; thus, increasing gland size is considered a normal part of the aging process.
The voiding dysfunction that results from prostate gland enlargement and bladder outlet obstruction (BOO) is termed lower urinary tract symptoms (LUTS). It has also been commonly referred to as prostatism, although this term has decreased in popularity. These entities overlap; not all men with BPH have LUTS, and, likewise, not all men with LUTS have BPH. Approximately half of men diagnosed with histopathologic BPH demonstrate moderate-to-severe LUTS. Clinical manifestations of LUTS include urinary frequency, urgency, nocturia (getting up at night during sleep to urinate), decreased or intermittent force of stream, or a sensation of incomplete emptying. Complications occur less commonly but may include acute urinary retention (AUR), impaired bladder emptying, or the need for corrective surgery.
Prostate volume may increase over time in men with BPH. In addition, peak urinary flow, voided volume, and symptoms may worsen over time in men with untreated BPH. The risk of AUR and the need for corrective surgery increases with age.
Symptoms of BPH are:
As the urethra becomes narrower, the bladder wall becomes thicker and the bladder itself becomes smaller, causing:
- Difficulty initiating a urine stream.
- A hesitant, interrupted and weak stream.
- Urgency and leaking or dribbling.
- Blood in the urine.
If a man suddenly becomes unable to pass any urine at all, this condition is called acute urinary retention.
The size of the prostate does not always determine how severe the obstruction or the symptoms will be. Some men with greatly enlarged glands have little obstruction and few symptoms, while others whose glands are less enlarged may have more blockage and greater problems.
Causes and Risk factors:
The cause of BPH is not well understood. No definite information on risk factors exists. For centuries, it has been known that BPH occurs mainly in older men and that it doesn't develop in men whose testes were removed before puberty. For this reason, some researchers believe that factors related to aging and the testes may spur the development of BPH.
Throughout their lives, men produce both testosterone, an important male hormone, and small amounts of estrogen, a female hormone. As men age, the amount of active testosterone in the blood decreases, leaving a higher proportion of estrogen. Studies done on animals have suggested that BPH may occur because the higher amount of estrogen within the gland increases the activity of substances that promote cell growth.
Another theory focuses on dihydrotestosterone (DHT), a substance derived from testosterone in the prostate, which may help control its growth. Most animals lose their ability to produce DHT as they age. However, some research has indicated that even with a drop in the blood's testosterone level, older men continue to produce and accumulate high levels of DHT in the prostate. This accumulation of DHT may encourage the growth of cells. Scientists have also noted that men who do not produce DHT do not develop BPH.
Some researchers suggest that BPH may develop as a result of “instructions” given to cells early in life. According to this theory, BPH occurs because cells in one section of the gland follow these instructions and “reawaken” later in life. These “reawakened” cells then deliver signals to other cells in the gland, instructing them to grow or making them more sensitive to hormones that influence growth.
The prevalence of BPH in white and African-American men is similar. However, BPH tends to be more severe and progressive in African-American men, possibly because of higher testosterone levels, 5-alpha-reducatase activity, androgen receptor expression, and growth factor activity in this population. The increased activity leads to an increased rate of prostatic hyperplasia and subsequent enlargement and its sequelae.
Sex: BPH occurs only in males. Women do not have prostate glands.
Age: BPH is a common problem that affects the quality of life (QOL) in approximately one third of men older than 50 years. BPH is histologically evident in up to 90% of men by age 85 years.
You may first notice symptoms of BPH yourself, or your doctor may find that your prostate is enlarged during a routine checkup. When BPH is suspected, you may be referred to an urologist, a doctor who specializes in problems of the urinary tract and the male reproductive system. Several tests help the doctor identify the problem and decide whether surgery is needed. The tests vary from patient to patient, but the following are the most common.
Digital Rectal Examination (DRE): This examination is usually the first test done. The doctor inserts a gloved finger into the rectum and feels the part of the prostate next to the rectum. This examination gives the doctor a general idea of the size and condition of the gland.
Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) Blood Test: To rule out cancer as a cause of urinary symptoms, your doctor may recommend a PSA blood test. PSA, a protein produced by prostate cells, is frequently present at elevated levels in the blood of men who have prostate cancer. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a PSA test for use in conjunction with a digital rectal examination to help detect prostate cancer in men who are age 50 or older and for monitoring men with prostate cancer after treatment. However, much remains unknown about the interpretation of PSA levels, the test's ability to discriminate cancer from benign prostate conditions, and the best course of action following a finding of elevated PSA.
Rectal Ultrasound and Prostate Biopsy: If there is a suspicion of prostate cancer, your doctor may recommend a test with rectal ultrasound. In this procedure, a probe inserted in the rectum directs sound waves at the prostate. The echo patterns of the sound waves form an image of the prostate gland on a display screen. To determine whether an abnormal-looking area is indeed a tumor, the doctor can use the probe and the ultrasound images to guide a biopsy needle to the suspected tumor. The needle collects a few pieces of prostate tissue for examination with a microscope.
Urine Flow Study: Your doctor may ask you to urinate into a special device that measures how quickly the urine is flowing. A reduced flow often suggests BPH.
Cystoscopy: In this examination, the doctor inserts a small tube through the opening of the urethra in the penis. This procedure is done after a solution numbs the inside of the penis so all sensation is lost. The tube, called a cystoscope, contains a lens and a light system that help the doctor see the inside of the urethra and the bladder. This test allows the doctor to determine the size of the gland and identify the location and degree of the obstruction.
- More frequent urination.
- Bladder irritability.
- A sudden strong urge to urinate, especially at night.
- Urge incontinence - (occurs when bladder muscles are too active. People with urge incontinence lose urine as soon as they feel a strong desire to go to the bathroom.).
Men who have BPH with symptoms usually need some kind of treatment at some time. However, a number of researchers have questioned the need for early treatment when the gland is just mildly enlarged. The results of their studies indicate that early treatment may not be needed because the symptoms of BPH clear up without treatment in as many as one-third of all mild cases. Instead of immediate treatment, they suggest regular checkups to watch for early problems. If the condition begins to pose a danger to the patient's health or causes a major inconvenience to him, treatment is usually recommended.
Since BPH can cause urinary tract infections, a doctor will usually clear up any infection with antibiotics before treating the BPH itself. Although the need for treatment is not usually urgent, doctors generally advise going ahead with treatment once the problems become bothersome or present a health risk.
The following section describes the types of treatment that are most commonly used for BPH.
Drug Treatment: Over the years, researchers have tried to find a way to shrink or at least stop the growth of the prostate without using surgery. The FDA has approved six drugs to relieve common symptoms associated with an enlarged prostate.
Finasteride (Proscar), FDA-approved in 1992, and dutasteride (Avodart), FDA-approved in 2001, inhibit production of the hormone DHT, which is involved with prostate enlargement. The use of either of these drugs can either prevent progression of growth of the prostate or actually shrink the prostate in some men.
The FDA also approved the drugs terazosin (Hytrin) in 1993, doxazosin (Cardura) in 1995, tamsulosin (Flomax) in 1997, and alfuzosin (Uroxatral) in 2003 for the treatment of BPH. All four drugs act by relaxing the smooth muscle of the prostate and bladder neck to improve urine flow and to reduce bladder outlet obstruction. The four drugs belong to the class known as alpha blockers. Terazosin and doxazosin were developed first to treat high blood pressure. Tamsulosin and alfuzosin were developed specifically to treat BPH.
Recently found that using finasteride and doxazosin together is more effective than using either drug alone to relieve symptoms and prevent BPH progression. The two-drug regimen reduced the risk of BPH progression by 67 percent, compared with 39 percent for doxazosin alone and 34 percent for finasteride alone.
Minimally Invasive Therapy: Because drug treatment is not effective in all cases, researchers in recent years have developed a number of procedures that relieve BPH symptoms but are less invasive than conventional surgery.
Transurethral microwave procedures: In 1996, the FDA approved a device that uses microwaves to heat and destroy excess prostate tissue. In the procedure called transurethral microwave thermotherapy (TUMT), the device sends computer-regulated microwaves through a catheter to heat selected portions of the prostate to at least 111 degrees Fahrenheit. A cooling system protects the urinary tract during the procedure.
The procedure takes about 1 hour and can be performed on an outpatient basis without general anesthesia. TUMT has not been reported to lead to erectile dysfunction or incontinence.
Although microwave therapy does not cure BPH, it reduces urinary frequency, urgency, straining, and intermittent flow. It does not correct the problem of incomplete emptying of the bladder. Ongoing research will determine any long-term effects of microwave therapy and who might benefit most from this therapy.
Transurethral needle ablation: In 1996, the FDA approved the minimally invasive transurethral needle ablation (TUNA) system for the treatment of BPH.
The TUNA system delivers low-level radiofrequency energy through twin needles to burn away a well-defined region of the enlarged prostate. Shields protect the urethra from heat damage. The TUNA system improves urine flow and relieves symptoms with fewer side effects when compared with transurethral resection of the prostate (TURP). No incontinence or impotence has been observed.
Water-induced thermotherapy: This therapy uses heated water to destroy excess tissue in the prostate. A catheter containing multiple shafts is positioned in the urethra so that a treatment balloon rests in the middle of the prostate. A computer controls the temperature of the water, which flows into the balloon and heats the surrounding prostate tissue. The system focuses the heat in a precise region of the prostate. Surrounding tissues in the urethra and bladder are protected. Destroyed tissue either escapes with urine through the urethra or is reabsorbed by the body.
High-intensity focused ultrasound: The use of ultrasound waves to destroy prostate tissue is still undergoing clinical trials in the United States. The FDA has not yet approved high-intensity focused ultrasound.
Surgical Treatment: Most doctors recommend removal of the enlarged part of the prostate as the best long-term solution for patients with BPH. With surgery for BPH, only the enlarged tissue that is pressing against the urethra is removed; the rest of the inside tissue and the outside capsule are left intact. Surgery usually relieves the obstruction and incomplete emptying caused by BPH. The following section describes the types of surgery that are used.
Transurethral surgery: In this type of surgery, no external incision is needed. After giving anesthesia, the surgeon reaches the prostate by inserting an instrument through the urethra.
A procedure called transurethral resection of the prostate (TURP) is used for 90 percent of all prostate surgeries done for BPH. With TURP, an instrument called a resectoscope is inserted through the penis. The resectoscope, which is about 12 inches long and 1/2 inch in diameter, contains a light valves for controlling irrigating fluid, and an electrical loop that cuts tissue and seals blood vessels.
During the 90-minute operation, the surgeon uses the resectoscope's wire loop to remove the obstructing tissue one piece at a time. The pieces of tissue are carried by the fluid into the bladder and then flushed out at the end of the operation.
Most doctors suggest using TURP whenever possible. Transurethral procedures are less traumatic than open forms of surgery and require a shorter recovery period. One possible side effect of TURP is retrograde, or backward, ejaculation. In this condition, semen flows backward into the bladder during climax instead of out the urethra.
Another surgical procedure is called transurethral incision of the prostate (TUIP). Instead of removing tissue, as with TURP, this procedure widens the urethra by making a few small cuts in the bladder neck, where the urethra joins the bladder, and in the prostate gland itself. Although some people believe that TUIP gives the same relief as TURP with less risk of side effects such as retrograde ejaculation, its advantages and long-term side effects have not been clearly established.
Open surgery. In the few cases when a transurethral procedure cannot be used, open surgery, which requires an external incision, may be used. Open surgery is often done when the gland is greatly enlarged, when there are complicating factors, or when the bladder has been damaged and needs to be repaired. The location of the enlargement within the gland and the patient's general health help the surgeon decide which of the three open procedures to use.
With all the open procedures, anesthesia is given and an incision is made. Once the surgeon reaches the prostate capsule, he or she scoops out the enlarged tissue from inside the gland.
Laser surgery: In March 1996, the FDA approved a surgical procedure that employs side-firing laser fibers and Nd: YAG lasers to vaporize obstructing prostate tissue. The doctor passes the laser fiber through the urethra into the prostate using a cystoscope and then delivers several bursts of energy lasting 30 to 60 seconds. The laser energy destroys prostate tissue and causes shrinkage. As with TURP, laser surgery requires anesthesia and a hospital stay. One advantage of laser surgery over TURP is that laser surgery causes little blood loss. Laser surgery also allows for a quicker recovery time. But laser surgery may not be effective on larger prostates. The long-term effectiveness of laser surgery is not known.
Newer procedures that use laser technology can be performed on an outpatient basis.
Photoselective vaporization of the prostate (PVP): PVP uses a high-energy laser to destroy prostate tissue and seal the treated area.
Interstitial laser coagulation: Unlike other laser procedures, interstitial laser coagulation places the tip of the fiberoptic probe directly into the prostate tissue to destroy it.
Medicine and medications:
There are two types of medication for this problem.
Alpha-blockers: These medicines help to relax muscle fibres within the prostate, thereby reducing the obstruction to the urine flow. They do not reduce the size of the prostate. Examples include terazosin (Hytrin), alfuzosin (Xatral) and tamsulosin (Flomax MR). Patients occasionally experience side effects such as dizziness, headache, drowsiness and retrograde ejaculation.
5-alpha-reductase inhibitors such as finasteride (Proscar) inhibit the growth of the prostate and decrease the size of the gland.
Research studies have shown that both types of medical treatment are effective at improving urinary symptoms in men with BPH.
There are also different kinds of over-the-counter herbal medicine on the market. However, these preparations are not generally recommended because their effect has not been completely documented. Those which do have some supporting evidence are saw palmetto and beta-sitosterol plant extracts and rye grass pollen extract.
DISCLAIMER: This information should not substitute for seeking responsible, professional medical care.