The prostateThe prostate is a walnut-sized gland located between the bla... Full Definition is a glandA gland is an organ that produces and secretes a chemical su... Full Definition a little bigger than a golf ball and a little smaller than a tennis ball. Most references compare it in size to a walnut. It is tucked behind the pubic bone and sits under the bladderA sac in the human body that collects urine for excretion. and in front of the rectumThe final section of the large intestine, which ends at the ... Full Definition. That is, it sits pretty deep inside the lower abdomen, so it isn’t easy to see or feel. A male hormone called testosteroneA sex hormone secreted by the testes. feeds the cells in the prostate and sustains the organ throughout life.

Though hidden, the prostate is central to some pretty important activities. First off, the urethraThe duct urine (and semen for men) passes through on the way... Full Definition, which carries urine and semenA white, sperm-containing, fluid produced by the male reprod... Full Definition out through the penis, runs right through the prostate. Problems with urination are often the first symptoms of prostate problems. For instance, inflammation in the gland can cause urinary discomfort, such as a pressing need to pee or difficulty peeing.

The prostate is also part of the male reproductive system. Its job is to produce fluids that go into semen. Secretions from the prostate make up about a third of semen’s contents. The rest of the mix consists of sperm, which is produced in the testicles, and other ingredients that are produced in the seminal vesiclesSmall glands that sit on top of the prostate that add nutrie... Full Definition. These vesicles, small glandular sacs, sit above the prostate.

One of the prostate’s secretions is an enzymeEnzymes are molecules that accelerate chemical processes in ... Full Definition called prostate-specific antigen (PSA). A healthy prostate produces this enzyme normally. It liquefies semen so that sperm has an easier time swimming through it. Some PSA ends up in the bloodstream. Healthy PSA levels vary based on patient factors from age to ethnicity, and remain mostly stable over time, rising only slightly with age. Talk to your doctor about what a “normal” PSA level looks like for you.

But if the prostate begins to grow abnormally, either because of inflammation or because of the growth of prostate cancerCancer is a group of diseases where cells grow abnormally an... Full Definition, the PSA level in the blood begins to rise.

Continued Below


In addition to sitting so close to the bladder, rectum, and urethra, the prostate is also surrounded by muscles that help propel semen through the urethra during ejaculation. Nerve bundles that control erections also curve around the gland’s surface. If these nerves are damaged, for example, during surgery to remove the prostate, erections may no longer be possible.

While it may be difficult for a man to feel his own prostate, a doctor can check prostate health easily with a digital rectal exam (DRE). That is, the doctor will insert a gloved finger into the rectum and feel the gland. The prostate sits a few inches up and to the front of the body. The exam may feel uncomfortable, both physically and psychologically, but doctors who perform this test do it all the time. They are comfortable with it and do it knowing that its purpose is to help the patient. While this exam is most frequently performed by a urologistA doctor who specializes in the urinary and male reproductiv... Full Definition, other physicians such as a primary care doctor, oncologistA doctor who specializes in cancer care., or gastroenterologist may do a DRE and note an abnormality in your prostate.

Any experienced practitioner will be able to feel abnormalities, such as swelling or lumps, with a fingertip. Unfortunately, sometimes a gland will feel normal and still have prostate cancer in it. Depending on a man’s age, health, and digital rectal exam, the doctor might recommend additional prostate cancer tests, such as a blood draw to look at the PSA level, to get more information about the health of the gland.