Sexual Health Q&A

Is an enlarged prostate associated with a higher risk of prostate cancer?

Some studies have suggested an association between an enlarged prostate gland and prostate cancer, but more research is needed

An enlarged prostate – also called benign prostatic hyperplasia or BPH – is a common condition among older men. The Prostate Cancer Foundation estimates that 60% of men in their 60s have BPH.

When a man has BPH, his prostate gland increases in size. Generally, excess prostate cells grow inward. Sometimes, these extra cells press on the urethra, the tube that allows urine and semen to leave the body. This squeezing effect can make it difficult for men to urinate. While BPH can be troublesome, it is not cancer.

Prostate cancer involves a different kind of cell growth. Instead of normal prostate tissue cells, cancer cells multiply, sometimes spreading to other organs. When a urologist suspects prostate cancer, a prostate biopsy is usually ordered. Sample cells are removed from the prostate and analyzed in a lab to see if the cells are cancerous.

Many men worry that having an enlarged prostate will eventually lead to prostate cancer. And sometimes, men with BPH do, in fact, develop prostate cancer.

There is currently no evidence that BPH causes prostate cancer. But in May 2016, the journal Medicine published a study that suggested an association. After reviewing numerous medical studies, a team of researchers from China concluded that there is a link between BPH and increased risk for prostate cancer. However, the authors also noted that these findings need to be confirmed with more research.

Men are encouraged to discuss prostate health with their urologist, especially if they are having trouble urinating or feeling pain.