In males, the prostate is located just beneath the bladder. It sits in front of the rectum and it wraps around the urethra, which is the drainage tube for the bladder. The prostate is a gland that functions to secrete seminal fluid, which is necessary for reproduction. During sexual arousal, at the time of climax, the muscles in and around the prostate contract and at that point the seminal fluid leaves the prostate and helps to transport sperm. Because of this, the prostate has to be in a location where it can quickly empty its contents into the urethra, which in addition to being the drainage tube for the bladder, is also the route that seminal fluid takes as it exits the body. Because of its location, the prostate has a very pronounced effect on how well the bladder empties. Under normal circumstances, the prostate, which is like a donut-shaped valve just under the bladder, opens up during bladder emptying and lets the urine flow through it out the urethra and out of the body.
The prostate has multiple functions to perform and is sensitive to many signals coming from various parts of the body. Certain parts of the brain control the valvular function of the prostate, in other words, when it should open, when it should close, when the muscles should relax, when they should contract. Hormones released from different parts of the body can make the prostate enlarge, or can cause the muscles in the prostate to contract or relax.
The symptoms most people identify with prostatic problems are decreased force of stream, frequent urination, having to get up at night to urinate, dribbling of urine after the bladder is emptied, and in severe cases, inability to urinate. These symptoms are known by various names: BPH, benign prostatic hyperplasia (or hypertrophy) or LUTS lower urinary tract symptoms.
In addition to producing the symptoms of benign prostatic disease, the prostate can undergo development of cancerous tumors. Cancer of the prostate is by some estimates the most common cancer among American men. One in six men over age 50 will develop prostate cancer and as an individual ages, his chance of developing cancer increases. This cancer rarely causes symptoms in its early stages. Symptoms such as difficulty with urination, bone pain or weight loss, often signal advanced cancer.