The sex organ you didn't know you had
We're often told we're sex obsessed yet, as Jim Pollard reports, men have a sex organ that seven out of ten of them know nothing about.
Mine is a spheroid measuring 37mm by 43mm by 31mm which means it has roughly the dimensions of a misshapen, over-sized walnut. It weighs 22 grams - about the weight of a packet of crisps after you've taken a decent handful. These details are important because, unlike other sex organs (and yes, we are talking about a sex organ), in this case, size does matter.
Pause for much head scratching.
Surveys suggest that most of you will not know what I'm on about. Male readers, fret not. I'm not talking about that much-discussed but frequently elusive female sex organ. (Unfortunately, for all concerned, that particular item is generally somewhat smaller than a walnut.) No, I'm talking about the prostate gland, a little secretion factory located beneath the bladder against the rectum.
Why do I call it a sex organ?
Because, although we don't know everything about the prostate, we do know that is involved in the orgasm and produces secretions that join the sperm in the male's semen. By looking after it, you're also looking after your sex life.
As men get older, their prostate gland often becomes bigger, the walnut can become an orange.
It presses against the bladder making peeing difficult. While this is inconvenient the growth is not usually serious and can usually be treated. However, the symptoms are much the same at first as for something far more serious — prostate cancer. That is why it is so important to get yourself checked out.
Over the last 30 years prostate cancer rates in the UK have almost tripled. In 1999, for the first time ever, there were more cases of prostate cancer in the UK than of lung cancer. As the population ages prostate cancer will go on increasing for a few years yet.
One man is diagnosed with prostate cancer every fiften minutes.
However, much of the increase is down to increased detection and death rates are more stable.
The disease does not only concern older men. Although most cases — over 60% - occur in men over 70, there is an increase among among younger men too. There is also evidence that the disease is more aggressive in younger men. Five year survival rates are higher for men in their 60s than for older and younger men. Indeed, men under 50 who develop the disease are less likely to still be alive five years later than men over 70 who develop it.
John Walker's story of his prostate cancer diagnosis and treatment has been one of the most popular on malehealth. (There are link's to John's articles on the right.) John was just 46 when he got the disease. He's well aware of how lucky he was.
'I was very fortunate,' he says. 'I have a pushy wife. She persuaded me at the age of 45 to have a PSA (Prostate Specific Antigen) test to determine the health of my prostate. She'd read an article in a magazine about men's' health. I was convinced the test would come back negative and life would continue along its normal course.'
It didn't quite work out like that. 'The results of the test were not desperately conclusive. The reading wasn't negligible but it wasn't spectacularly worrying either. A reading like mine is not enough in some parts of the country to warrant further investigation. This is where my second stroke of good fortune occurred. The Trust that covers the area I live in tries very hard in the area of urology. I was referred to a specialist.
'The third stroke of good luck was the specialist himself. How anyone can get their kicks through digital rectal examinations and prostate biopsies is beyond me, but in quick succession I received both from him.
'Stroke of luck number four was that the cancer discovered, was in its very early stages; number five was that with relatively swift action the cancer and my prostate could be removed, according to the specialist; and number six was being referred to the local hospital prostate cancer support group. With hindsight I think that the help provided by the support group pre-operation was most important.'
That was all a couple of years ago now and John's in good health after the successful removal of his prostate.
As John's case shows one of the complications with prostate cancer is that the tests for it such are not black and white. That is why the government does not offer routine prostate tests for men in the way it offers routine cervical smear tests for women. Men have to keep an eye on themselves.
The PSA test measures an antigen in the blood but the results can be difficult to assess.
In some people the PSA may be high when there is no cancer; in others it may show normal even when cancer is present, as in John's case. PSA readings can also be lowered artificially by interactions with other compounds incuding the herb saw palmetto which some men take to treat their enlarged prostates.
There's another, easier test which can, in the hands (literally) of a good doctor, give a useful indication of prostate size. The digital rectal examination (DRE) which John also mentioned may sound like the latest in high-tech procedures but it is nothing more than a finger up the bottom. Because of the location of the prostate a skilled doctor can get a good sense of its size from such an inspection. There's nothing to it, really. It only takes a moment and you hardly feel it because of all the gel the doctor uses. Honest, I've had one.
However, both of these tests are no more than a guide. Fortunately, the basic symptoms of an enlarged prostate are pretty obvious to any man who has them:
- a weak flow when peeing
- a flow which stops and starts
- having to wait before you start to go
- having to pee more often than previously
- the feeling that 'when you've got to go, you've got to go'
- having to get up more at night to pee
If you have these symptom, see your doctor. It may save your life.
And if you're still wondering why I called it a sex organ, erection problems can be another symptom of prostate cancer.
An enlarged prostate will hamper your sex-life in a number of other ways.
You may well be tired from getting up to pee all night. A full bladder and sexual arousal don't go together. The pressure on the bladder during sex can be distracting and the sensations felt in the prostate during sex can be uncomfortable if the prostate is enlarged.
In other words, getting your prostate checked out really can improve your sex life too.
Page created on March 3rd, 2009
Page updated on March 25th, 2010