Sexual Health Q&A

Is BPH the same as prostate cancer?

No. The two conditions are different, particularly in their growth and their symptoms.

BPH stands for benign prostatic hyperplasia. This is the medical term for an enlarged prostate. Benign is an important word. This means that the cells are not harmful – and not cancerous.

Affected Areas and Cell Growth

To understand the differences between BPH and prostate cancer, it helps to consider the anatomy of the prostate gland. This gland is responsible for producing semen, which mixes with sperm when a man ejaculates.

Clinicians typically think of the prostate as having three distinct zones. The outside area is peripheral zone. Next comes the central zone, with the transition zone making up the core interior of the prostate.

BPH and prostate cancer affect different zones and their cells tend to grow in opposite directions.

With BPH, it’s the middle part of the prostate – the transition zone – that actually enlarges. Cells grow inward and press on the urethra – the tube that carries urine and semen out of the body. This is why so many men with BPH also have problems with urination. (These problems are called lower urinary tract symptoms or LUTS).

In contrast, most prostate cancer tumors start in the peripheral zone – the outermost portion of the prostate. From there, cancer cells grow outward and may spread to surrounding tissues.


Another difference between the two conditions is their symptoms. There is some overlap, but BPH’s symptoms mainly involve urination because of pressure on the urethra:

• Needing to urinate more often, especially at night
• Inability to urinate or trouble starting urine flow
• A weak urine flow or dribbling urine
• Straining to urinate
• Feeling like the bladder is not empty

Men with prostate cancer can have urinary symptoms, too. But they may have other symptoms, such as the following:

• Erectile dysfunction (ED)
• Pain while urinating or ejaculating
• Bloody urine or semen
• Pain in the lower back, hips, or upper thighs

Sometimes, men with prostate cancer have no symptoms at all, so it’s important to be screened routinely.

Currently, there is no evidence that BPH causes prostate cancer. Some studies have found an association between the two conditions, but more research is needed.

Men who have problems with urination, pain, or sexual difficulties are urged to see their doctor. The symptoms mentioned above are common for men with BPH or prostate cancer, but such symptoms can signal other conditions as well. It’s best to have a complete physical to determine the cause(s) and start treatment.

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