What does the prostate do?

Published May 11, 2014

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The prostate is a gland that forms part of the male reproductive system and is located in front of the rectum and just below the bladder (see diagram below). The urethra, the narrow tube that carries urine and semen out of the body, runs directly through the prostate gland.

While it’s not essential for life, the prostate gland is important for reproduction. Its main role is to squeeze fluid into the urethra as sperm move through during a sexual climax.1 This fluid, which makes up semen, nourishes and protects sperm thereby facilitating sperm transit, survival and fertilization.2 It contains enzymes that loosen up semen to help it reach the egg during intercourse. It also contains zinc, citrate and fructose to give sperm energy to make the journey, and antibodies that protect the urinary tract and sperm from bacteria and other pathogens.2

What can go wrong with the prostate?

The prostate goes through two main periods of growth as a man matures. The first growth phase occurs early in puberty when the prostate gland doubles in size. The second occurs around the age of 25 when the prostate begins to gradually grow again. This second growth phase can result in a condition known as benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) in later life.1 If the prostate enlarges due to BPH, it presses on the urethra and pushes up on the bladder, which can lead to changes or problems with urination. Men may experience:3

  • More frequent urination at night
  • Urinary urgency
  • Urine dribbling
  • Lack of force to the urine flow
  • A sensation that the bladder isn’t fully emptied after urination

It’s estimated that BPH affects more than half of men in their 60’s and as many as 90% of men in their 70’s and 80’s.1

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