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What Is the Prostate?


There are four types of prostatitis. Prostatitis is an infection or inflammation of the prostate. It can affect men in their late teens to those well into old age. Its symptoms include trouble passing urine, chills and fever, and sexual problems. The condition is not contagious and cannot be transmitted sexually to a partner. Treatment usually includes antibiotics.

A man who has recently had a catheter or other medical instrument inserted into his urethra is at higher risk of bacterial prostatitis. Some sexually transmitted diseases, such as chlamydia, may cause chronic prostatitis.

Maintaining Prostate Health: Tests

Doctors use several tests to check on the condition of the prostate. They include:

DRE, or digital rectal exam: This is the standard prostate test. A doctor feels the prostate from the rectum, checking for things such as size, lumps, and firmness.

PSA, or prostate-specific antigen test: This blood test measures the amount of a protein called PSA that is produced by prostate cells. Elevated levels may indicate cancer. They are not, though, proof that a man has prostate cancer. Levels may be elevated with noncancerous prostate conditions such as an enlarged prostate or prostatitis. Levels may be low with prostate cancer. 

Screening for prostate cancer is controversial.

The American Cancer Society says men should talk to their doctors about the benefits, risks, and limitations of prostate cancer screening before deciding whether to be tested. The group's guidelines make it clear that prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood testing should not occur unless this discussion happens.

The American Urological Association recommends that men ages 55 to 69 who are considering screening should talk with their doctors about the risks and benefits of testing and proceed based on their personal values and preferences. The group also adds:

  • PSA screening in men under age 40 years is not recommended.
  • Routine screening in men between ages 40 to 54 years at average risk is not recommended.
  • To reduce the harms of screening, a routine screening interval of two years or more may be preferred over annual screening in those men who have decided on screening after a discussion with their doctor. As compared to annual screening, it is expected that screening intervals of two years preserve the majority of the benefits and reduce over diagnosis and false positives.
  • Routine PSA screening is not recommended in men over age 70 or any man with less than a 10-15 year life expectancy.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, however, doesn't recommend routine PSA screening for men in the general population, regardless of age. They say the tests may find cancers that are so slow-growing that medical treatments -- which can have serious side effects -- would offer no benefit. 

Prostate biopsy: Men with high PSA results or other symptoms of cancer may have a tissue sample taken of their prostate to determine if cancer is present.


WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Andrew Seibert, MD on August 26, 2012

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