What is BPH?
The prostate is a walnut-sized gland that forms part of the male reproductive system. The gland is made of two lobes, or regions, enclosed by an outer layer of tissue. As the diagrams show, the prostate is located in front of the rectum and just below the bladder, where urine is stored. The prostate also surrounds the urethra, the canal through which urine passes out of the body. It is common for the prostate gland to become enlarged as a man ages. Doctors call this condition benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), or benign prostatic hypertrophy. BPH rarely causes symptoms before age 40, but more than half of men in their sixties and as many as 90 percent in their seventies and eighties have some symptoms of BPH. As the prostate enlarges, the layer of tissue surrounding it stops it from expanding, causing the gland to press against the urethra like a clamp on a garden hose. The bladder wall becomes thicker and irritable. The bladder begins to contract even when it contains small amounts of urine, causing more frequent urination. Eventually, the bladder weakens and loses the ability to empty itself, so some of the urine remains in the bladder. The narrowing of the urethra and partial emptying of the bladder cause many of the problems associated with BPH.
Many symptoms of BPH stem from obstruction of the urethra and gradual loss of bladder function, which results in incomplete emptying of the bladder. The symptoms of BPH vary, but the most common ones involve changes or problems with urination, such as:
a hesitant, interrupted, weak stream
urgency and leaking or dribbling
more frequent urination, especially at night
Sometimes a man may not know he has any obstruction until he suddenly finds himself unable to urinate at all. This condition, called acute urinary retention, may be triggered by taking over-the-counter cold or allergy medicines. When partial obstruction is present, urinary retention also can be brought on by alcohol, cold temperatures, or a long period of immobility.
It is important to tell your doctor about urinary problems such as those described above. In eight out of 10 cases, these symptoms suggest BPH, but they also can signal other, more serious conditions that require prompt treatment. These conditions, including prostate cancer, can be ruled out only by a doctor’s examination.
Severe BPH can cause serious problems over time. Urine retention and strain on the bladder can lead to urinary tract infections, bladder or kidney damage, bladder stones, and incontinence—the inability to control urination. If the bladder is permanently damaged, treatment for BPH may be ineffective. When BPH is found in its earlier stages, there is a lower risk of developing such complications.
You may first notice symptoms of BPH yourself, or your doctor may find that your prostate is enlarged during a routine checkup. When BPH is suspected, you may be referred to a urologist. Several tests help the doctor identify the problem and decide whether surgery is needed. The tests vary from patient to patient, but the following are the most common.
Digital Rectal Examination (DRE)
This examination is usually the first test done. The doctor inserts a gloved finger into the rectum and feels the part of the prostate next to the rectum. This examination gives the doctor a general idea of the size and condition of the gland.
Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) Blood Test
To rule out cancer as a cause of urinary symptoms, your doctor may recommend a PSA blood test. PSA, a protein produced by prostate cells, is frequently present at elevated levels in the blood of men who have prostate cancer.
Rectal Ultrasound and Prostate Biopsy
If there is a suspicion of prostate cancer, your doctor may recommend a test with rectal ultrasound. In this procedure, a probe inserted in the rectum directs sound waves at the prostate. The echo patterns of the sound waves form an image of the prostate gland on a display screen. To determine whether an abnormal-looking area is indeed a tumor, the doctor can use the probe and the ultrasound images to guide a biopsy needle to the suspected tumor. The needle collects a few pieces of prostate tissue for examination with a microscope.
Urine Flow Study
Your doctor may ask you to urinate into a special device that measures how quickly the urine is flowing. A reduced flow often suggests BPH.
In this examination, the doctor inserts a small tube through the opening of the urethra in the penis. This procedure is done after a solution numbs the inside of the penis so all sensation is lost. This test allows the doctor to determine the size of the gland and identify the location and degree of the obstruction.
Over the years, researchers have tried to find a way to shrink or at least stop the growth of the prostate without using surgery. The FDA has approved several drugs to relieve common symptoms associated with an enlarged prostate.
Minimally Invasive Therapy
Because drug treatment is not effective in all cases, researchers in recent years have developed a number of procedures that relieve BPH symptoms but are less invasive than conventional surgery.
Most doctors recommend removal of the enlarged part of the prostate as the best long-term solution for patients with BPH. With surgery for BPH, only the enlarged tissue that is pressing against the urethra is removed; the rest of the inside tissue and the outside capsule are left intact. Surgery usually relieves the obstruction and incomplete emptying caused by BPH. The following section describes the types of surgery that are used.
In this type of surgery, no external incision is needed. After giving anesthesia, the surgeon reaches the prostate by inserting an instrument through the urethra. With TURP, an instrument called a resectoscope is inserted through the penis. The resectoscope, which is about 12 inches long and 1/2 inch in diameter, contains a light, valves for controlling irrigating fluid, and an electrical loop that cuts tissue and seals blood vessels.
During the 90-minute operation, the surgeon uses the resectoscope’s wire loop to remove the obstructing tissue one piece at a time. The pieces of tissue are carried by the fluid into the bladder and then flushed out at the end of the operation.
Robotic Assisted Surgery
Thanks to a breakthrough surgical technology, surgeons now widely offer a minimally invasive option for prostatectomy, the da Vinci Prostatectomy.
Imagine major surgery performed through the smallest of incisions. Imagine having the benefits of a definitive treatment but with the potential for significantly less pain, a shorter hospital stay, faster return to normal daily activities – as well as the potential for better clinical outcomes.