Have you felt discomfort when urinating lately? Perhaps it’s getting increasingly harder to push urine out of your bladder, or maybe you’re experiencing a dreaded case of dribbling urine.
If you’ve been experiencing these worrying symptoms, you may automatically assume the worst: cancer. But in reality, these symptoms don’t necessarily mean you have cancer. In fact, they’re more likely indicative of a much less serious condition known as benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH).
While it’s true that both benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) and prostate cancer interfere with the functioning of the prostate gland, they are two completely separate conditions. Having one doesn’t increase your chance of contracting the other condition, so it’s critical to seek medical attention to uncover the underlying cause of your urinary symptoms.
With that said, what exactly is the difference between BPH and prostate cancer? Should we worry about them in the first place? Let’s take a closer look at the differences between the two.
What is the Role of the Prostate Gland?
It’s vital to gain a basic understanding of the prostate gland’s role in the body before discussing the two disorders.
The prostate is a small, walnut-sized gland located in front of the rectum and below the urinary bladder in men. The primary function of this gland is to produce seminal fluid, which is a viscous fluid that aids transport sperm out of the body during ejaculation. This fluid also provides essential nutrients that nourish the sperm.
In addition to that, the prostate gland also helps regulate urine flow. It surrounds the urethra, which is the tube urine flows through when exiting the body. The prostate’s 5-alpha-reductase enzyme also converts testosterone in the body into dihydrotestosterone (DHT). This new compound is crucial in increasing male sex drive. The production of this hormone tends to decrease in age, which can lead to a reduced sex drive.
What is BPH?
Benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) is an enlargement of the prostate gland that is not cancerous. The enlarged prostate presses against the urethra and blocks urine flow.
BPH is a common medical condition in men. It’s estimated that more than 50% of males will have BPH by the time they reach the age of 60, and as many as 90% of men will have the condition by the time they turn 70.
Surgical treatment is an option for those who suffer from moderate BPH symptoms, but it’s not needed if the symptoms are mild and not bothersome. And in most cases, BPH is mild.
What is Prostate Cancer?
Prostate cancer refers to the growth of malignant cells in the prostate gland. Just like BPH, this is a highly common disease, estimated to affect 1 out of 8 men in their lifetime. This makes it the second most common cancer in the United States, just behind breast cancer.
Prostate cancer is slow-growing, with cellular changes appearing up to 30 years before the tumor enlarges to a considerable degree and symptoms start to appear. In moderate cases, prostate cancer can metastasize and spread to the pelvic lymph nodes.
For advanced prostate cancer, cancerous cells may spread to the bones. When these symptoms appear, it may be a severe risk to one’s health.
Symptoms of BPH and Prostate Cancer
One of the most confusing things about BPH and prostate cancer is that they share a lot of the same symptoms. This often leads to misdiagnosis, as both conditions require a completely different type of treatment.
The most common symptom shared by both BPH and prostate cancer patients is urination problems. This can include:
- Nocturia, or the frequent nightly urge to urinate
- Difficulty starting to urinate
- Needing to “push” urine
- Weak or dribbling urine stream
- Interrupted urine flow
- Feeling like you’re unable to fully empty your bladder
Prostate cancer symptoms, on top of the aforementioned urinary issues, include:
- Pain during urination
- Blood in the urine or semen
- Erectile dysfunction (but you can avoid it and protect your erection)
- Reduced fluid when ejaculating
- Pain during ejaculation
If you experience any of these symptoms, get treated by a doctor as soon as possible. They’ll provide you with the next steps on how to properly treat developing prostate cancer.
Diagnosis of Prostate Cancer and BPH
Diagnosing prostate cancer and diagnosing BPH usually requires the patient to undergo a series of lab tests. Here are the ways doctors can detect prostate cancer and BPH in patients:
- Prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test: Detecting prostate cancer or abnormal cellular growth is first done through a blood test that determines PSA levels. PSA is a protein that becomes elevated when the prostate enlarges.
- Digital rectal exam (DRE): This procedure tasks the doctor to insert a lubricated and gloved finger into the patient’s rectum to feel for any textural abnormalities or lumps in the prostate gland.
For BPH, a specialized post-void residual volume test is conducted to determine how much urine is stored in your bladder after you urinate. In prostate cancer patients, ultrasounds and biopsies are conducted to determine signs of abnormalities in prostate shape and cancer growth in tissues respectively.
Treatment for BPH and Prostate Cancer
The treatment for these two conditions varies considerably. That is why it’s important that you get diagnosed with the right condition to not have any health complications further down the line.
Here are the usual treatment plans for BPH patients:
- Watchful waiting: For mild cases, doctors won’t perform any invasive surgeries as of this time.
- Medication: 5-alpha-reductase inhibitors and alpha-blockers are effective in treating BPH. PDE-5 inhibitors may also be helpful, but they come with side effects.
- Surgery: Displacement or removal of obstructive adenoma may be done to relieve symptoms in patients.
For prostate cancer patients, here’s what to expect when it comes to treatment:
- Radical prostatectomy: Removal of cancerous prostate tissue.
- Radiation therapy: High-energy X-ray beams are used to kill cancer cells.
- Hormone therapy: Reducing the amount of testosterone in the body to prevent cancer cell growth
Your doctor may develop alternative treatment plans if the above methods aren’t enough to treat your personal condition.
Consult a Leading Men’s Health Center for Medical Guidance About BPH and Prostate Cancer
BPH and prostate cancer share a lot in common, but they are two completely different conditions. They can only be properly diagnosed through tests conducted by a certified doctor.
Treatment plans also differ for these two conditions, so make sure you get a definite diagnosis before starting any sort of treatment on your own.
Looking for a male health specialist? Contact the medical professionals at St. Louis’ Paramount Men’s Medical Center who specialize in treating conditions that impact men’s health. Our concierge approach positions your unique case at the centerpoint of our focus. We don’t just give you a pill for ED and send you on your way. We treat the underlying issues that led to conditions such as ED, Low Testosterone, and more. Contact our office today to schedule an appointment.