The prostate gland is part of the male reproductive system. It is about the size and shape of a walnut and is found just below the bladder and in front of the rectum.
The prostate helps produce semen, which carries the sperm from the testicles through the penis during ejaculation.
In this article, we look at the causes, symptoms, and diagnosis of prostate nodules.
What is a prostate nodule?
A nodule on the prostate may be a benign growth.
A prostate nodule is a firm area that may appear on the prostate. It is raised and hard and feels like the knuckle on a finger.
A prostate nodule may be cancerous and, as a result, should be checked by a doctor.
A person with a prostate nodule may be referred to a specialist and given a biopsy, which is when a piece of tissue is removed and sent away for further tests.
A nodule vs. a tumor
A nodule or a tumor on the prostate essentially refers to the same thing - an abnormal growth. However, "nodule" is regarded as a benign growth, whereas "tumor" is used more commonly to refer to cancer.
If a person is confused by the terms being used by their doctor, they should ask for clarification, as this can help them get a better understanding of their health.
What causes prostate nodules?
There are several different reasons a person could develop a prostate nodule. These include:
Prostate cancer occurs when cells in the prostate gland start to grow uncontrollably. Nearly all instances of prostate cancer are a type known as adenocarcinomas.
Other, rarer types include:
small cell carcinomas
transitional cell carcinomas
Prostate cancer is the most common form of cancer in men in the United States. It is estimated that in 2017 there will be 161,360 new cases of prostate cancer and 26,730 deaths caused by prostate cancer.
Older men are more likely to develop prostate cancer, with 6 out of 10 cases occurring in men aged 65 or over.
Not all prostate nodules are cancer, however, and they can be caused by several other conditions.
Prostatitis is inflammation of the prostate gland and is often caused by a bacterial infection. Around half of all men are affected by prostatitis at some point in their lives. It does not increase the risk of other prostate diseases.
There are four different types of prostatitis:
Acute bacterial prostatitis, which is caused by a bacterial infection and comes on suddenly. It is the least common type but the easiest to diagnose and treat with antibiotics. Symptoms include chills, fever, and urine in the blood.
Chronic bacterial prostatitis, which is also caused by bacteria. Often, the only symptom is a bladder infection. It is treated with antibiotics but may be recurrent or chronic.
Chronic prostatitis, which is also known as chronic pelvic pain syndrome, is the most common type of prostatitis and can come and go without warning. Symptoms include pain and discomfort in the groin and bladder area, which can be treated with anti-inflammatory drugs or alpha-blockers.
Asymptomatic inflammatory prostatitis, which does not have any symptoms and often does not require treatment. This type of prostatitis is usually discovered during tests for something else. Prostate calculi
This is the presence of stones in the prostate, often called prostatic stones. Doctors believe they are formed either by secretions from the prostate thickening, or when pus and other debris fuse together during an infection.
Prostate calculi can be associated with chronic prostatitis and often has similar symptoms. The presence of the stones can lead to inflammation of the prostate, which stops urine exiting the body and can lead to a bacterial infection.
Other causes of a prostate nodule include:
infarct, an area of dead tissue caused by a loss in blood supply
abnormalities in the rectum, such as a hemorrhoid
Prostate changes over time
Passing urine more often than normal and a reduced flow of urine are symptoms that may require medical attention.
The prostate gland tends to grow as men age. An enlarged prostate may squeeze the urethra and make it difficult to urinate. This requires medical attention.
The risk of having prostate problems increases with age. The most common prostate problems are inflammation, an enlarged prostate, and prostate cancer. Having one problem does not directly lead to another, however.
Symptoms that require medical attention include:
passing urine more often than usual
having an urgent need to pass urine
a reduced flow of urine
a burning feeling when passing urine
having to get up many times in the night to pass urine
A doctor will ask about a person's symptoms and their medical history and may take a urine sample for testing.
The standard way to examine the prostate is a digital rectal exam. A doctor will insert a lubricated and gloved finger into the rectum to feel the prostate. The test takes around 10 to 15 seconds.
The digital rectal exam will allow the doctor to feel if there is a prostate nodule present.
Prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test
A PSA test checks for elevated PSA in the blood, which is a protein produced by the prostate. Increased PSA in the blood may be a sign of prostatitis, an enlarged prostate, or prostate cancer. However, some other non-medical factors can also increase PSA.
If a doctor has any concerns about prostate cancer, they will refer the man to a urologist for a prostate biopsy. Samples from several areas of the prostate will be taken and tested. Treatment will be decided based on the results.
Prostate cancer may affect 1 in 7 men in their lifetime.
The outlook for a man with a prostate nodule will depend on the cause of the nodule and the health of the individual.
If the cause of the nodule is prostatitis or prostate calculi, it will often be treated using antibiotics or other medications. In rare cases, it may be treated with surgery.
If the prostate nodule is cancerous, it will be treated using prostate cancer treatments. The outlook for men with prostate cancer varies depending on their age, the stage of the cancer, and their overall health.
While it is a serious disease, most men diagnosed with prostate cancer do not die from it. Prostate cancer affects roughly 1 in 7 men during their lifetime. There are currently around 2.9 million men in the U.S. who have prostate cancer.
As well as receiving physical treatment, it is essential that people with prostate cancer seek support from those around them, including family, friends, healthcare professionals, and support groups.