Prostate disease

The prostate

The prostate is a small gland in the pelvis that is only found in men. It is located between the penis and the bladder, and surrounds the urethra (the tube that carries urine from the bladder to the penis).

The main function of the prostate is to help with the production of semen. The prostate produces a thick, white fluid that is liquefied by a special protein known as prostate-specific antigen (PSA). The fluid is then mixed with sperm, produced by the testicles, to create semen.

Prostate disease

There are three main conditions that can affect your prostate. They are:

  • prostate enlargement,
  • prostatitis (inflammation of the prostate gland), and
  • cancer of the prostate.

Prostate enlargement

Prostate enlargement is a common condition that is associated with ageing. It is estimated that 60% of men who are 60 years of age, or over, have some degree of prostate enlargement.

If the prostate becomes enlarged, it can place pressure on the bladder and urethra. This can cause symptoms that affect urination (passing urine when going to the toilet). These include:

  • difficulties starting urination,
  • a frequent need to urinate, and
  • difficulty emptying the bladder fully.

Symptoms can range from mild to severe.

See the 'useful links' section for more information on prostate enlargement.


Prostatitis is a general term used to refer to inflammation or infection of the prostate gland. Symptoms of prostatitis include pelvic pain, pain when urinating and pain when ejaculating semen.

See the 'useful links' section for more information on prostatitis

Prostate cancer

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men. It is responsible for 25% of newly diagnosed cases of cancer.

The chances of developing prostate cancer increase as you get older. Most cases develop in men aged 65 or older.

For reasons that are not understood, prostate cancer is more common in men who are of Afro-Caribbean or African descent and less common in men of Asian descent.

The causes of prostate cancer are largely unknown.

The outlook for prostate cancer is generally good despite it being relatively challenging to treat. This is because, unlike many other cancers, prostate cancer usually progresses very slowly. It can take up to 15 years for the cancer to spread from the prostate to other parts of the body (metastasis), typically the bones. In many cases, prostate cancer won't affect a man's natural life span.

Once the cancer has spread to the bones it can't be cured, and treatment is focused on prolonging life and relieving symptoms.

Prostate cancer can be cured when treated in its early stages. Treatments include removing the prostate, hormone therapy and radiotherapy (using radiation to kill the cancerous cells).

All the treatment options carry the risk of significant side effects including loss of sexual desire (libido), the inability to maintain or obtain an erection (sexual dysfunction) and urinary incontinence. For this reason many men decide to delay treatment until there is a significant risk that the cancer might spread.

See the 'useful links' section for more information on prostate cancer.


The bladder is a small organ near the pelvis that holds urine until it is ready to be passed from the body.


The urethra is a tube that carries urine from the bladder to the outside of the body.


Inflammation is the body's response to infection, irritation or injury. It causes redness, swelling, pain and sometimes a feeling of heat in the affected area.


A disease is an illness or condition that interferes with normal body functions.


Pain is an unpleasant physical or emotional feeling that your body produces as a warning that it's been damaged.

Content provided by NHS Choices and adapted for Ireland by the Health A-Z.

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