Five things you do not know about the prostate

Jun 6, 2019 0 Comments by

Today is World Prostate Cancer Day and we want to bring you a post full of curiosities. Where does the word “prostate” come from? Since when are we familiar with its funtion? How do we know if the prostate is in good health?

Origin of the word

It has been commonly believed that the term “prostate” comes from the Greek προστάτης, prostátēs, and means, literally, “the guardian”, “the one who stands before”. However, the Greeks did not call it that, but referred to this gland with the name of παραστάτης, parastátēs, which means “the one next to it”, “assistant”, “annex”, a term that the Greek physician Herophilus began to use in the 4th century BC. It is considered that this change in the term is due to an error of reading and translation of a manuscript of the Greek physician Galen; the word prostátēswas not used in medicine at that time, so no Greek doctor used this term.

It is likely that the first use of “prostate” appeared in some 16th century French manuscripts, used as prostate. Since they did not consult the original Greek texts, the wrong word has been used since then up to the present, which has generated … a translation mistake!

Prostate function

The Greek physician Galen, in the 2nd century AD, described the function of the prostate with the following words: “the fluid that is produced in those glandular bodies is poured into the urine duct in the males at the same time as the sperm. Its functions are to cause excitation for sexual intercourse, to produce pleasure and to moisten the urine duct during sexual contact.”

The truth is that he was not very misguided: the prostate is a gland located under the bladder with the function of creating the prostatic fluid that protects the sperm. It also applies pressure for the semen to be ejected through the urethra and is responsible of blocking the bladder so that the urine does not come out during sexual intercourse.

Diagnosing anomalies in the prostate

When men reach 45 years old, it is advisable to book annual check-ups with a urologist to prevent any disease related to the prostate (prostatitis, hyperplasia, etc.). In many occasions, this can arouse many misgivings, since the inspection of the prostate is associated with the dreaded digital rectal examination. This is not always required!

Currently, urologists prescribe blood tests, including prostate antigen (PSA), imaging tests (for example, an ultrasound) or a flowmetry, which is used to measure the strength of the flow of urine and to evaluate whether the size of the prostate is preventing the bladder from emptying normally.

Rectal examination is only carried out on occasions when the results point to some anomaly that should be explored.

Historical curiosities

In the antiquity, the phenomena of retention of the urine or the difficulties to urinate were already known. However, they were attributed to bladder stones, unrelated to the prostate. Herophilic, the physician whom we have cited above, defined the prostate as “a spongy tissue next to the bladder neck pierced by the ejaculatory channels.” However, the function of the prostate was not really known.

In the sixteenth century the physiological functions of the prostate were established, mainly by Ambroise Paré, the surgeon who described it to perfection. Throughout the 16th and 17th centuries, the increase in the size of the prostate could be associated with bladder obstruction and in the 18th century, quite a few surgeons were interested in how to treat this obstruction.

It was in the 19th century when the French surgeon Louis Auguste Mercier coined the term “prostatic hypertrophy.”

Prostate cancer, one of the least aggressive

The word “cancer” scares and worries us. In the case of prostate cancer, according to the Spanish Association Against Cancer (AECC) in Europe and Spain, prostate cancer is the second most diagnosed cancer in men. Spain is the country with the highest number of diagnoses. Early detection is key for early treatment and accurate diagnosis, that is why we encourage an annual appointment for 45-years-old men and even earlier, if there is a family background of prostate cancer. Although it is a highly prevalent a tumor, it also has one the highest survival rates. In fact, if detected in its early stages, treatments can be non-invasive and the success rates are high.

Never had a prostate check-up? Book you appointment in any of our tow clinics: in the Center of Urology, Andrology and Sexual Medicine (Palma) or in the Institute of Sexual Medicine, Andrology and Urology (Madrid).


If you have a diagnosis of prostate cancer and you want a second opinion or know if cryosurgery is adequate, you can consult us here.