Functions of Human Prostate

The prostate, despite being an important organ, whose main function is the protection of spermatozoa in ejaculate fluid, is not essential for life. Patients with serious diseases, such as prostate cancer, may have this gland surgically removed, without this necessarily leading to major disorders.


What is the prostate?

The prostate is a gland (so it can also be called the prostate gland), which has a rounded shape and is on average 3 cm high, 4 cm long and 2 cm wide, totaling a volume of approximately 15 to 20 cubic centimeters (or 15 to 20 grams).

The prostate gland is located just below the bladder and in front of the rectum (the end portion of the large intestine). Also attached to the prostate are the seminal vesicles, the organs responsible for producing part of the fluid present in the sperm (see figure on the side to better understand where the prostate is).

Inside the prostate, the urethra passes, a channel that drains urine from the bladder into the penis. The vas deferens, which are the channels that carry the sperm produced by the testicles, also pass inside. The vas deferens flow into the urethra within the prostate.

Function of the prostate

The main function of the prostate is to produce a secretion that serves as protection for the spermatozoa. The prostatic fluid corresponds to about 30% of the ejaculated sperm volume; it is he who gives sperm its milky appearance.

The spermatozoa are produced in the testicles and transported by the vas deferens, which joins the seminal vesicle. As they pass through the seminal vesicle, the spermatozoa are mixed with the seminal fluid, an alkaline substance that corresponds to 50-70% of the total sperm volume. After the seminal vesicle, the spermatozoa reach the prostate gland.

During ejaculation, the prostate gland contracts and releases the prostatic fluid, mixing with the seminal fluid already rich in spermatozoa. The first fraction of ejaculated sperm is rich in prostatic fluid and has the most active, healthy spermatozoa capable of fertilizing an egg. The prostate fluid protects the sperm from the acidic environment of the vagina, keeping your DNA intact. The prostate fluid also prolongs the life of the sperm and causes them to become more mobile, increasing the chances of reaching the egg.

As the vas deferens flows into the urethra within the prostate, there must be some control so that urine from the bladder does not meet sperm from the testicles. When the man ejaculates, the prostate contracts, pushing the sperm toward the penis and closing the portion of the ureter that connects to the bladder. This way, there is the guarantee that there will be no passage of urine during ejaculation.

Most common prostate diseases

A. Benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH)

One of the major problems of the prostate gland is its tendency to grow over the years, especially after 40 years. The prostate enlargement is called benign prostatic hyperplasia.

Benign prostatic hyperplasia is so common that it affects half of men over 50 and over 80% of men over 80 years of age.

The main complication of BPH is obstruction to the passage of urine. Note the figure above as a large prostate can clog the urethra, making it difficult to drain the urine.

B. Prostate cancer

Another common disease of the prostate gland is prostate cancer. Adenocarcinoma of the prostate is the most common cancer in males, present in up to 80% of men who reach 80 years of age.

Prostate cancer is a tumor that is usually indolent, growing slowly, and may remain asymptomatic for several years.

C. Prostatitis

Prostatitis is a disease caused by inflammation of the prostate.

Acute prostatitis, which is the most common form of prostatitis, is an inflammatory condition usually caused by a bacterial infection, usually by E. coli, Klebsiella or Proteus.

Prostatitis can occur in both young men and in the elderly and its main symptoms are fever, pain to urinate and pain in the pelvic region.

Prostate examination

There are four important tests to evaluate the prostate. The simplest is the rectal touch. As the prostate gland is stuck to the rectum, through the rectal touch it is possible to palpate it, being able to obtain information about its size and format.

Another simple test is the blood count of PSA, an enzyme produced by the prostate gland, which is often increased in diseases, especially cancer and prostatitis.

Ultrasonography of the prostate is a useful imaging test to evaluate the size of the prostate and the presence of suspicious nodules. When the ultrasound is done by the rectal route, the effectiveness of the examination is much greater, and this is the ideal way to perform a prostatic ultrasound.

Can we live without the prostate?

Yes, the prostate is not an essential organ to life. In fact, in the elderly, who no longer want to have children, the prostate has no function, serving only as a source of problems.

The big question is that removal of the prostate is not a complication-free procedure. Among the most common are sexual impotence and urinary incontinence.

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