The prostate gland is a walnut-sized structure, weighing in at about 20 to 30 grams (about an ounce) that is made up of muscle fibers that surround numerous smaller glands and ducts.
The prostate gland is positioned underneath the bladder and is wrapped around the urethra, the tube that carries urine from the bladder through the penis and out of the body. During ejaculation, the urethra serves as the escape route for semen to exit the body through the penis.
The main purpose of the gland is to take care of sperm, which it does in several ways. One way is to produce and store fluid that it mixes with fluid from the seminal vesicles. These alkaline seminal fluids nourish the sperm and
The muscle in the gland provides the push sperm need to swim their way out of the penis. The gland also filters and removes environmental chemicals that may jeopardize the viability of sperm. In addition to supporting healthy sperm, the gland fluids also protect against urinary tract infections.
The prostate gland has yet more functions.
- Erection nerves in the prostrate play a role in a man’s ability to achieve an erection.
- Two muscles in the prostate called sphincters act as valves to control urine flow and ejaculated semen and seminal fluid. Damage to either sphincter (one is where the bladder and upper prostate meet, the other is at the base of the prostate) can result in urinary incontinence. Dysfunction of the sphincter at the base of the gland can cause retrograde ejaculation.
- It houses an enzyme called 5-alpha-reductase, which transforms testosterone to dihydrotestosterone (DHT).
- It produces prostate-specific antigen (PSA), which itself has several roles. PSA helps keep sperm in a liquid form, which in turn helps sperm reach the uterus. PSA is the substance tested in the blood during the PSA test.
- It has a significant role in sexual satisfaction and is even referred to as the male G-spot. Stimulation of the gland can result in intense orgasms, and a man’s ability to control ejaculation can lead to prolonged orgasm and other strong sexual responses.
When the gland is healthy, location is generally not an issue. But it can become an issue when one of several things happen. For example:
- If it grows larger than it should, it can press up into the bladder and cause urine to stay in the bladder after urination (called urinary retention), resulting in urinary tract infections and other problems.
- If it squeezes against the urethra, it can slow the flow of urine, causing a long delay before the urinary stream begins and other problems. If the prostate gets a stranglehold on the urethra, it can stop the flow of urine completely.
- If the cells become cancerous, the gland can serve as “ground zero” for cancer cells to travel to the bladder, spine, liver, brain, and elsewhere in the body.