What Is BPH, or Enlargement of the Prostate?

Benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), or "enlarged prostate," is a condition that can cause many of the same symptoms as prostate cancer.

What should you know about this important condition?

Doctor talking to patient about BPH
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What Is BPH?

BPH is a noncancerous increase in the size and number of cells that make up the prostate.

Who Gets BPH?

BPH is almost always found in older men. Since women do not have a prostate, they cannot get BPH. And young men almost never experience symptoms of an enlarged prostate. The prostate enlarges over the course of many years of exposure to male hormones, and young men typically have not had enough years of exposure for symptoms to show up.

Causes of BPH

During puberty, the prostate goes through a phase of very rapid enlargement, but this levels off once puberty is completed. Starting in mid-life, the prostate begins growing again, but very slowly this time.

It is thought that these periods of growth result from increased levels of male hormones such as testosterone. Testosterone is produced throughout a man’s life and, subsequently, the prostate grows throughout a man’s life.

Due to the slow progression of this growth, most men do not notice any symptoms of BPH until they are older and the prostate has grown to such a size that it impinges on the outflow of urine from the bladder.

Symptoms of BPH

Due to the location of the prostate, BPH causes a number of urinary symptoms. The prostate is located just below where the bladder empties into the urethra (which is a thin tube that carries urine from the bladder, through the penis, to outside the body). As the prostate enlarges, it impinges the flow of urine through the urethra.

The most common symptoms are:

  • Frequency - urinating much more often than normal.
  • Urgency - having a sensation that you need to urinate immediately.
  • Nocturia - getting up to urinate multiple times during the night.
  • Hesitancy - difficulty starting the urine stream.

These symptoms can be identical to those experienced by men with prostate cancer. There is no way to tell if your symptoms are due to BPH or prostate cancer, so it is essential to visit your physician if you develop any of these symptoms.

How Do You Know You Don’t Have Prostate Cancer?

If you have the symptoms listed above, you should see your physician. There is no way to tell whether you have BPH or a more serious problem like prostate cancer based on symptoms alone.

To diagnose BPH, prostate cancer must first be ruled out. To rule out prostate cancer, you need to undergo a digital rectal examination (DRE) and a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test at the minimum. These tests are used to diagnose prostate cancer and consider treatments, if necessary. If both are negative, then your chances of having prostate cancer are very low.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Lim KB. Epidemiology of clinical benign prostatic hyperplasia. Asian J Urol. 2017;4(3):148-151. doi:10.1016/j.ajur.2017.06.004

  2. Prostate Enlargement (Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia). National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Sept 1, 2014.

  3. Lee SWH, Chan EMC, Lai YK. The global burden of lower urinary tract symptoms suggestive of benign prostatic hyperplasia: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Sci Rep. 2017;7(1):7984. doi:10.1038/s41598-017-06628-8

Additional Reading
  • Barry MJ, Cockett AT, Holtgrewe HL, et al. Relationship of symptoms of prostatism to commonly used physiological and anatomical measures of the severity of benign prostatic hyperplasia. The Journal of Urology.Aug 1993;150(2 Pt 1):351-8.
  • Berry SJ, Coffey DS, Walsh PC, Ewing LL. The development of human benign prostatic hyperplasia with age. The Journal of Urology. Sep 1984;132(3):474-9.

By Matthew Schmitz, MD
Matthew Schmitz, MD, is a professional radiologist who has worked extensively with prostate cancer patients and their families.