What Is BPH?

Benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) is the most common benign (noncancerous) growth process in men. As is true for prostate cancer, BPH occurs more often in Western industrialized countries (the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada, for example) than in Eastern countries (such as Japan and China). BPH appears to be more common among black men than among white men, and some evidence suggests that a family history of BPH may increase the risk. Being overweight, especially with extra fat concentrated around the abdomen, increases the risk of developing BPH.

About one in four men experiences BPH-related symptoms by age 55; by age 75, half of men have BPH symptoms. Treatment for the condition is necessary only if symptoms become intolerable. By age 80, 20 to 30 percent of men experience BPH symptoms severe enough to require treatment.

The main treatment options for BPH include:

  • medications that either shrink the prostate or relax the muscle tissue that constricts the urethra
  • surgery to remove excess prostate tissue
  • heat therapy to vaporize the excess tissue

Causes of BPH

The term "hyperplasia" refers to an overgrowth of tissue or any abnormal accumulation of cells that causes an organ or area of the body to enlarge. In BPH, prostate cells accumulate, and the tissue overgrowth produces nodules in the transition zone of the prostate.

The increase in prostate cells is due to a slowing of apoptosis (normal programmed cell death), not because of an increase in cell production. What triggers BPH is not well understood, but aging and testosterone (the predominant male sex hormone) are believed to be the primary influences on its development.

Animal studies suggest that the female sex hormone estrogen (produced in small amounts in men) also may play a role, perhaps when a man's testosterone production declines and the balance of the two hormones is altered.

Publication Review By: H. Ballentine Carter, M.D.

Published: 07 Apr 2011

Last Modified: 31 Aug 2015