What Is the Prostate Gland?

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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Male doctor showing tablet with diagram of male reproductive system to male patient

The prostate is a walnut sized gland found just below the bladder, in front of the rectum. It wraps around the urethra, the tube that goes from the bladder to the tip of the penis so you can urinate. Its role is to secrete prostate fluid, a thick milky-white liquid that mixes with the semen when a man ejaculates. The muscles in the prostate gland help push this fluid into the semen.

The prostate gland isn’t essential for good health, so it can be removed if needed. However, it is essential for reproduction and, depending on why the gland was removed, it could have an impact on sexual or urinary function. Learn more about the prostate gland and what problems it may cause in some men.

Physical Exam for Enlarged Prostate

Most men probably don’t give their prostate gland a second thought until they are older and their doctor says it’s time for a physical examination to see if the gland is enlarged. Although the prostate gland is generally the size of a walnut, it can start to grow as men get to their 40s or 50s. The only way a doctor can tell the gland size is by doing a digital exam which involves inserting a gloved finger into the rectum and feeling for the gland.

Because of the gland’s location, if it becomes enlarged, it can press on the urethra, making it difficult for urine to drain from the bladder. It can also make it difficult for a man to maintain an erection. This is called benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) and it’s the most common of prostate gland conditions.

Prostatitis: Inflammation of the Prostate

Another common problem associated with the prostate is prostatitis—inflammation or swelling of the prostate gland. It can be very painful and needs to be treated as quickly as possible. Symptoms include:

  • Pain or burning when urinating
  • Difficulty starting the urine flow, or dribbling when urinating
  • Frequent and urgent need to urinate, especially at night
  • Blood in the urine
  • Pain between the scrotum and rectum, abdomen, testicles or penis

If the prostatitis is caused by a bacterial infection and is left untreated, the infection could spread. Complications from untreated prostatitis also nerve damage to the area.

Prostate Cancer: Second Most Common Cancer in Men

After skin cancer, prostate cancer is the most common cancer that affects men. In 2019, almost 175,000 men in the United States were diagnosed with prostate cancer, with about 60% being over the age of 65. When diagnosed in the early stages, the survival rate is almost 100%, which is why regular doctor examinations are vital. Currently, prostate cancer is the second leading cause of death among men in the country because it is not detected early enough. Regular physical (digital) exams and blood tests are the best way to detect the cancer early.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Mar 31
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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  2. Enlarged prostate. MedlinePlus. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000381.htm
  3. Prostate Gland. Harvard Health Publishing. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/prostate-gland
  4. Prostate Cancer: Statistics. Cancer.Net. https://www.cancer.net/cancer-types/prostate-cancer/statistics
  5. Prostate Problems. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/urologic-diseases/prostate-problems
  6. Prostatitis. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/prostatitis/symptoms-causes/syc-20355766