Guys, it’s time to get comfortable with an uncomfortable topic: your prostate

Guys, it’s time to get comfortable with an uncomfortable topic: your prostate

Prostate issues seem to be appearing in younger and younger men. Yet, many men aren't sure what their prostate is, what it does, or what to do if they think they might have a problem.

We’ve got all the details for you, and some extra info on keeping it healthy, how it might change as you age, and any changes or symptoms you should keep an eye on or tell your doctor about.

What is the prostate and where is it?

Your prostate is a small rubbery gland that lives inside your body, just below your bladder. It's roughly the size and shape of a walnut and sits around the urethra, the tube that carries pee from your bladder through your penis. (The urethra also carries semen when you ejaculate). From the side, the prostate sits between the front of the rectum and the base of the penis. Only men have a prostate.

What does the prostate do?

You could live without your prostate (it is not essential for life), but it plays a key part in fertility and reproduction, and grows during adolescence under the influence of the male hormone testosterone and its byproducts.

The prostate produces some of the fluids contained in your semen, the liquid that transports sperm.

Healthy semen has to be just the right consistency and contains special enzymes and hormones that help your sperm cells survive and function properly. Semen also contains citrate, zinc and a sugar called fructose. Fructose helps give the sperm the energy to make it to the egg and fertilise it.

About 70 to 80 percent of the fluid in semen comes from the seminal vesicles, two small structures that sit on top of the prostate like rabbit ears.

There are nerves and blood vessels that run along each side of your prostate called the neurovascular bundle. These are involved the process of getting and maintaining an erection. The muscles in your prostate also help push semen through your urethra when you ejaculate.

Keeping your prostate healthy

Living a healthy lifestyle is the best way to keep your body well and protect against cancer.

Maintaining a healthy body weight, not smoking, exercising regularly, and having a healthy diet can all play important roles in preventing disease, including prostate cancer. 

A review of research suggests that eating red foods such as tomatoes and watermelon may reduce progression and growth of prostate cancer cells. Red foods contain a powerful antioxidant called lycopene.

Eating fruit, especially citrus fruit such as oranges, lemons, grapefruit, limes and mandarins may also slightly lower your risk of prostate cancer, according to some studies.

Coffee and green tea may also lower cancer risk, but more studies need to be done to confirm this.

A review of research done in 2014 indicated there may be a link between saturated fats and animal fats and prostate cancer risk, so it may pay to reduce intake of these types of fats.

For some ideas about looking after your health at all ages, read through the Queensland Government’s guide to good health for men: Men’s health through the decades.

You may have heard that too frequent masturbation can cause prostate cancer. It’s been studied, and so far there have been no links found between masturbating or having sex too often and prostate cancer. If anything, the effect may be the opposite, but more research is needed to know how and why.

What can go wrong with your prostate?

Enlarged prostate (benign prostatic hyperplasia)

It’s common for the prostate to get bigger as men age. Around half of men aged over 50 experience ‘benign prostatic hyperplasia’, which means swelling or enlargement of the prostate. This can mean the prostate expands from the size of a walnut to the size of an apricot or even a lemon.

For some men, an enlarged prostate doesn’t cause any symptoms or bother. Others will find that an enlarged prostate causes symptoms, including:

- difficulty peeing, including getting started or getting a strong or steady ‘flow’

- needing to pee often

- needing to pee suddenly, without the normal build up

- waking up at night to go to the toilet

- pain or burning when peeing

- or pain when ejaculating.

It’s important to tell your doctor if you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, even if you’re younger than 50. Some men might worry that these symptoms mean they have cancer, but most of the time, an enlarged prostate doesn’t mean cancer has developed. 

Sometimes, an enlarged prostate can be treated with lifestyle changes, like drinking less before you go to bed. Some men will be prescribed medicines to help with the condition, and surgery can also be an option, though this is less common because of the risk of side effects. 


Prostatitis is inflammation of the prostate. It’s different from an enlarged prostate, though some of the symptoms are similar. Prostatitis can cause the prostate to become swollen, tender or inflamed.

Symptoms of prostatitis can include:

- needing to pee urgently, often in the middle of the night

- pain when peeing or after you ejaculate

- blood in your urine

- lower back pain

- pain in your rectum

- a feeling of heaviness behind your scrotum

- a urinary blockage, which means you can’t pee when you need to.

There are different types of prostatitis. Bacterial prostatitis is caused by a bacterial infection, and can be treated with antibiotics. Then there’s chronic prostatitis, or chronic pelvic pain syndrome. Doctors don’t know yet what causes this condition, but it can be trigged by things like an injury, nerve damage or stress.

What Is Prostate Cancer?

Cancer starts when cells in the body begin to grow out of control. Cells in nearly any part of the body can become cancer cells, and can then spread to other areas of the body. Prostate cancer begins when cells in the prostate gland start to grow out of control. The prostate is a gland found only in males. It makes some of the fluid that is part of semen.

Types of prostate cancer

Almost all prostate cancers are adenocarcinomas. These cancers develop from the gland cells (the cells that make the prostate fluid that is added to the semen).

Other types of cancer that can start in the prostate include:

- Small cell carcinomas

- Neuroendocrine tumors (other than small cell carcinomas)

- Transitional cell carcinomas

- Sarcomas

These other types of prostate cancer are rare. If you are told you have prostate cancer, it is almost certain to be an adenocarcinoma.

Some prostate cancers grow and spread quickly, but most grow slowly. In fact, autopsy studies show that many older men (and even some younger men) who died of other causes also had prostate cancer that never affected them during their lives. In many cases, neither they nor their doctors even knew they had it.

Symptoms of prostate cancer

In its early stages, prostate cancer doesn’t necessarily cause symptoms. Men with prostate cancer might experience some of the following symptoms:

- needing to pee frequently or suddenly

- finding it difficult to pee, including trouble getting started or maintaining a strong or steady flow

- feeling like you haven’t completely emptied your bladder after going to the toilet

- pain, burning or discomfort when peeing

- blood in pee or semen

- or pain in the lower back, upper thighs, hips or chest

- feelings of weakness or numbness in the legs or feet

- unexplained weightloss

- feeling tired, short of breath or dizzy

- a rapid heart beat

- pale skin.

You’ll notice a lot of these symptoms are similar to symptoms of other conditions, including an enlarged prostate or prostatitis, which is why it’s important to always see your doctor if you notice any of these symptoms or changes.

Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.