- It is used to produce the liquid part of the sperm that nourishes and protects spermatozoa
- It produces a protein – Specific Prostatic Antigen (PSA) – which helps the sperm to remain in a liquid form after ejaculation
- It controls urinary flow and ejaculation by relaxing or contracting its muscle fibers when urinating or during an orgasm
- It indicates that APS, which is found in sperm and blood, may be useful for detecting prostate diseases
The prostate is made up of thousands of tiny fluid-producing glands. Specifically, the prostate is an exocrine gland. Exocrine glands are so-called because they secrete through ducts to the outside of the body (or into a cavity that communicates with the outside). Sweat glands are another example of an exocrine gland.
The fluid that the prostate gland produces forms part of semen, the fluid that carries sperm during orgasm. This fluid, produced in the prostate, is stored with sperm in the seminal vesicles. When the male climaxes, muscular contractions cause the prostate to secrete this fluid into the urethra, where it is expelled from the body through the penis.
In addition to the prostate’s role in producing ejaculate, it also plays a part in controlling the flow of urine. The prostate wraps itself around the urethra as it passes from the bladder to the penis. Muscular fibres in the prostate contract to slow the flow of urine.
As well, the prostate produces a protein called prostate specific antigen (PSA). PSA is released with the ejaculatory fluid and can also be traced in the blood stream. The testing of PSA levels in the blood is used to detect prostate cancer. The level of PSA in the blood is usually measured in nanograms of PSA per milliliter of blood (ng/mL).
A raised PSA level
A raised PSA level can be a sign of one of the following problems:
- An enlarged prostate (benign prostatic hyperplasia)
- Inflammation or infection of the prostate (prostatitis)
- A urine infection
- Prostate cancer
Around 75% of men that have a high PSA level do not have prostate cancer. On the other hand, some men with prostate cancer have a normal PSA level. Your doctor will take into consideration other factors, such as family history, and will have you undergo other tests, such as a digital rectal exam, before deciding whether you should consult a specialist.
Why treatments can affect the prostate
The prostate is close to parts of the digestive, urinary and reproductive systems. As a result, prostate cancer and its treatments can affect these systems. For example, an enlarged prostate can press on and block the urethra, which can cause problems urinating. Radiation therapy for prostate cancer can affect the rectum and cause bowel problems. Surgery to remove prostate cancer can affect nerves that supply the bladder and penis, which can affect urinary and sexual function.