What's the difference between prostate cancer and BPH?

Dr. Audrey K. Chun, MD
Geriatric Medicine Specialist

Benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) simply means that your prostate (a walnut-sized gland located beneath the bladder and in front of the rectum) has grown bigger. This is a common issue in older men—more than half of men in their 60s and as many as 90 percent of men in their 70s and 80s have some prostate enlargement.

BPH isn't prostate cancer and it won't raise your risk of prostate cancer.

Prostate cancer is sometimes diagnosed when urinary symptoms associated with benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) are being evaluated, but the two conditions are completely independent. A man can have BPH—enlarged prostate—and prostate cancer at the same time.

BPH stands for benign prostate hyperplasia. In this condition, the area of the prostate around the urethra (transition zone) grows in size, and obstructs the urethra. This manifests as obstruction of flow of urine as men become older. This transition zone growth is not cancerous.

Prostate cancer on the other hand, usually begins in the peripheral zone of the prostate, away from the urethra. The prostate tissue gets firm and enlarged, but by virtue of its peripheral location, obstruction of the urethra (located centrally) does not occur until the cancer becomes advanced.

Your doctor can obtain a PSA blood test, perform a rectal exam and possibly order a biopsy in order to differentiate between the two diseases.

BPH is a benign enlargement of the prostate and not related to cancer in any way. BPH and prostate cancer share similar symptoms, and a patient with BPH could also have an elevated PSA.

Benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) is growth of prostate cells that is not cancerous or life threatening. Because BPH causes a growth of tissue around the prostate, its symptoms can resemble those of prostate cancer, particularly in the flow of urine. BPH is a very common disorder, particularly for men over 50. The similarities between prostate cancer and BPH are why further tests are often required to confirm one or the other condition.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.