Nearly half of UK men over the age of 50 suffer from an enlarged prostate, making related issues a growing problem. Now, a non-invasive procedure has been successfully trialled in Portugal, which could revolutionise the way men are treated for prostate problems that often result in frequent trips to the toilet.
A healthy prostate is usually around the size of a walnut, but in many men as they age, it can grow to the dimensions of an apple. It is not entirely evident to medical professionals why this should be the case, but some theories are centred around hormones.
One hypothesis is that constant exposure to testosterone over the years leads to the growth of the prostate. Another idea is that it is the imbalance of hormones that is the problem. Either way, the prostate is located around the urethra and can inhibit the flow of urine when enlarged.
Pressure exerted on the urethra and bladder can also result in a sudden urge to urinate when the bladder is only partly full. The implications of this can include not getting to the toilet in time or finding that sleep is interrupted, up to 15 times a night.
Some men manage to improve the situation through changes to their lifestyle or by taking medication, but the current method of rectifying the problem is through surgery. This involves cutting away cutting away a section of the prostate using either a laser or a hot wire.
Recovery time tends to be around three months and there are a number of complications that can occur. These include short-term incontinence or impotence and infertility if semen flows back into the bladder. Another risk is that nerves or muscles close to the bladder are damaged.
Prostate artery embolisation, the new procedure developed at St Louis Hospital in Lisbon, therefore represents a better option for many patients. Miniscule beads in their hundreds are injected into two or three of the arteries that provide a blood supply to the prostate, and thus restricted, the gland shrinks.
It has the added benefit of reducing the supply of testosterone, which is thought to be one of the contributing factors in the first place. The possibility of a loss of sexual function and incontinence as a result of the surgery are eliminated, as the bladder muscles are untouched.
Aching is expected for up to three days after the procedure, but can usually be managed with anti-inflammatory medication. The recovery time is therefore significantly reduced compared to traditional prostate surgery treatment.