A Brief History of the Prostate
You know about the prostate, or at least you probably think you do.
You should know to get your prostate routinely inspected starting at age 50—or 45, if you're at high risk—and that it's one of the body parts that can commonly develop cancerous cells. You may even know it plays an important role in the reproductive system, and when issues arise, urinary processes can suffer.
Needless to say, this basic information took centuries to discover—and we're learning even more about the prostate with each passing year, particularly when it comes to screening for and treating prostate cancer.
A timeline of research
Even though the prostate was "officially" discovered in 1536 by Venetian doctor Niccolo Massa, it took much longer before the medical field truly understood the details of its anatomy and function.
It wasn't until 1912 that American urologist Oswald Lowsley concluded the prostate could cause serious obstructions to sexual function and urination as it enlarged during the latter part of a man's life.
This was a big step, and nowadays we recognize and treat an enlarged prostate as a regular medical procedure. However, back in the day, prostate exams were not something that were common at all until the 1970s, when one discovery changed the process forever.
During the early to mid-1970s, cancer researcher T. Ming Chu and his team of 20 scientists were credited with discovering the antigens—substances produced during an immune response—that were identified as reliable factors for predicting prostate cancer.
The result was that curability rates for prostate cancer rose from 4 percent in the 1980s to between 80 and 90 percent today. The prostate-specific antigen test, or PSA test, has become an integral part of modern prostate research and clinical practice.
PSA tests look for antigens in the bloodstream to more accurately detect the development of prostate cancer. It's not a perfect process, sometimes giving false positives; sometimes the antigens used to detect diseases in the prostate are already at elevated or below-average levels. This can make cancer screening a multi-step process that doesn't rely on PSA tests alone.
However, since Chu's discovery was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1986, more than a billion PSA tests have been administered, and thanks to detecting prostate cancer in its early stages, many Americans today are living healthy lives.
The future of prostate research
As with most scientific fields, prostate research is continually evolving and adapting to combine new techniques and processes to make treating and diagnosing prostate cancer, and other conditions, easier and more accurate.
Some new developments in this field include:
- Researchers are working to identify foods and compounds that can reduce prostate cancer risk. The tomato, which contains lycopene, is just one such example.
- New medications called alpha-5-reductase inhibitors are being developed to help regulate hormones that contribute to prostate cancer.
- Ultra-high-precision laser treatments are being introduced to make surgical procedures for enlarged prostates much less invasive and more effective.
The history of the prostate is marked by the benefits of extensive scientific research that explores the human body and looks for innovative ways to promote healing. These scientific breakthroughs have allowed us to understand how male sexual health can be treated and cured. It's also led to a better quality of life for many men who have experienced prostate conditions.
If the past sets any sort of precedent for the future, it's clear many positive and revolutionary developments in prostate studies are in store.