Your urine stream isn’t what it used to be. It’s harder to get going these days. When you finally do get it started, it’s really more of a dribble than a flow. Because that anemic stream can’t fully empty your bladder, you find yourself running back and forth to the bathroom all day and in the middle of the night.
If you’re a man of a certain age, your mind may immediately veer to the worst possible scenario for your symptoms: prostate cancer. But while cancer can cause urinary problems, it’s far from the most likely reason.
Get instant access to members-only products and hundreds of discounts, a free second membership, and a subscription to AARP the Magazine.
“The vast majority of men with those symptoms don’t have prostate cancer,” explains Todd Morgan, M.D., chief of Urologic Oncology at Michigan Medicine. “They’re usually symptoms of benign prostatic hyperplasia, or BPH.”
About half of men in their 50s and up to 90 percent of those in their 80s have benign prostate growth, or prostate enlargement. Your prostate grows as you get older. As it enlarges, this gland squeezes and narrows your urethra — the tube urine passes through to leave your body. BPH is more annoying than harmful, and it’s very treatable.
Prostate cancer is common, too, affecting an estimated 1 in 8 men in their lifetime. Yet its symptoms typically don’t appear until late in the disease, once the cancer has already spread.
Along with urinary symptoms, late-stage prostate cancer can cause bone pain, weight loss and back pain. “Again, pretty generic symptoms that can be hard to recognize and that most of the time represent something totally different,” Morgan says.
5 Early Warning Signs
A few symptoms point to prostate problems, both benign and cancerous. To be safe, inform your doctor if you have any of the following issues.
- Peeing problems A weak stream, trouble getting the flow started or an urgent need to go (especially at night) are signs that your prostate is enlarged from BPH or cancer.
- Blood in your urine This symptom could indicate a urinary tract infection, but it’s one worth getting checked out.
- Pain or discomfort when you pee or sit may also be due to an infection, but see your doctor to make sure. Pain in your back, chest or hips is a sign of more advanced cancer that has spread to the bones.
- Erectile dysfunction Although this problem plagues some men naturally as they age, prostate cancer also can interfere with your ability to get an erection.
- Painful ejaculation Less semen than usual during ejaculation and blood in your semen are other prostate cancer warning signs.
Deciphering your symptoms
It’s never a good strategy to self-diagnose. When you have warning signs that suggest BPH or cancer, a trip to your primary care provider or urologist is in order. Along with either reassuring you that what you have is benign or pointing you to treatment if it’s cancer, your doctor can offer therapies to relieve those uncomfortable urinary symptoms so that you can sleep again.
Your doctor may start the evaluation by considering your risks for prostate cancer. Age is a big factor. Only 1 in 451 men are diagnosed before age 50. By age 70, the odds jump to 1 in 12 men. A family history — not only of prostate cancer but also of breast, ovarian, pancreatic or colon cancer — increases your risk, as well.