When is BPH treatment necessary?

The course of BPH in any individual is not predictable. Symptoms, as well as objective measurements of urethral obstruction, can remain stable for many years and may even improve over time as many as one-third of men, according to some studies. In a recent study from the Mayo Clinic, urinary symptoms did not worsen over a three-and-a-half-year period in 73% of men with mild BPH. A progressive decrease in the size and force of the urinary stream and the feeling of incomplete emptying of the bladder are the symptoms most correlated with the eventual need for treatment. Although nocturia (frequent nighttime urination) is one of the most annoying symptoms of BPH, it does not predict the need for future intervention.

If worsening urethral obstruction is left untreated possible complications are: a thickened, irritable bladder with reduced capacity for urine; infected residual urine or bladder stones; and a backup of pressure that damages the kidneys.

Decisions regarding treatment are based on the severity of symptoms (as assessed by the AUA Symptom Index), the extent of urinary tract damage, and the man's and overall health. In general no treatment is indicated in those who have only a few symptoms and are not bothered by them. Intervention -usually surgical- is required in the following situations:

  • inadequate bladder emptying resulting in damage to the kidneys
  • complete inability to urinate after acute urinary retention
  • incontinence due to overfilling or increased sensitivity of the bladder
  • bladder stones
  • infected residual urine
  • recurrent severe hematuria
  • symptoms that trouble the patient enough to diminish his quality of life
Treatment decisions are more difficult for men with moderate symptoms. They must weigh the potential complications of treatment against the extent of their symptoms. Each individual must determine whether the symptoms bother him enough, or interfere with his life enough, to merit treatment. When selecting a treatment, both patient and doctor must balance the effectiveness of different forms of therapy against their side effects and costs.


 Treatment options for BPH

Currently, the main treatment options for BPH are:

  • watchful waiting
  • medication
  • surgery (prostatectomy)
If medications prove ineffective in a man who is unable to withstand the rigors of surgery, urethral obstruction and incontinence may be managed by intermittent catheterization or an indwelling Foley catheter (which has an inflated balloon at the end to hold it in place in the bladder). The catheter can stay in place indefinitely (in which case, it is usually changed monthly).

Watchful Waiting

Because the progress and complications of BPH are unpredictable, a strategy of watchful waiting-meaning, no immediate treatment is attempted-is best for those with minimal symptoms that are not especially bothersome. Physician visits are needed about once a year to review the progress of symptoms, carry out an examination, and do a few simple laboratory tests. During watchful waiting, the man should avoid tranquilizers and over-the-counter cold and sinus remedies that contain decongestants. These drugs can worsen obstructive symptoms. Avoiding fluids at night may lessen nocturia.


Drug treatment of BPH is a new development, and data is still being gathered on the benefits and possible adverse effects of longterm therapy. Currently, two types of drugs-5-alpha-reductase inhibitors and alpha-adrenergic blockers-are used to treat BPH. Preliminary research suggests that these drugs improve symptoms in 30 to 60% of men taking them, but it is not yet possible to predict who will respond to medical therapy, or which drug will be better for an individual patient.

5-alpha-reductase inhibitors

Finasteride (Proscar) blocks the conversion of testosterone to dihydrotestosterone, the major male sex hormone found within cells of the prostate. In some men, finasteride can relieve BPH symptoms, increase urinary flow rate, and actually shrink the size of the prostate, though it must be used indefinitely to prevent recurrence of symptoms. It may take as long as six months, however, to achieve maximum benefits from finasteride.

In a study of its safety and effectiveness two-thirds of the men taking the drug experienced

  • at least a 20% decrease
  • in prostate size
    (only about half had achieved this level of reduction by the one-year mark)
  • one-third of patients had improved urinary flow
  • and two-thirds felt some relief of symptoms

One study published last year suggests that finasteride may be best suited for men with relatively large prostate glands. An analysis of six studies found that finasteride only improved BPH symptoms in men with an initial prostate volume of over 40 cc (cubic centimeters); finasteride did not reduce symptoms in men with smaller glands. Since finasteride shrinks the prostate, men with smaller glands are probably less likely to respond to the drug because the urinary symptoms result from causes other than physical obstruction (for example, smooth muscle constriction). A recent study showed that over a 4-year period of observation, treatment with finasteride reduced the risk of developing urinary retention or requiring surgical treatment by 50%

Finasteride causes relatively few side effects. Impotence occurs in 3 to 4% of men taking the drug. Finasteride may also decrease the size of the ejaculate. Another adverse effect is gynecomastia (breast enlargement). About 80% of those who stopped taking the drug had a partial or full remission of their breast enlargement. A study from England found gynecomastia in 0.4% of patients taking the drug. Because it is not clear that the gynecomastia is caused by the drug or increases the risk of breast cancer, men taking the drug are being carefully monitored until these issues are resolved.

Finasteride can lower PSA levels by about 50%, but is not thought to limit the utility of PSA as a screening test for prostate cancer. The fall in PSA levels, and any adverse effects on sexual function, disappear when finasteride is stopped.

To get the benefits of finasteride for BPH without compromising the detection of early prostate cancer, men should have a PSA test before starting treatment with finasteride; subsequent PSA values can then be compared to this baseline value. If a man is already on finasteride and no baseline PSA level was obtained, the results of a current PSA test should be multiplied by two to estimate the true PSA level. A fall in PSA of less than 50% after a year of finasteride treatment suggests either that the drug is not being taken or that prostate cancer might be present. Any increase in PSA levels while taking finasteride also raises the possibility of prostate cancer.

Alpha-adrenergic blockers

These drugs, originally used to treat high blood pressure, reduce the tension of smooth muscles in blood vessel walls and also relax smooth muscle tissue within the prostate. As a result, daily use of an alpha-adrenergic bloeftv drug may increase urinary flow and relieve symptoms of urinary freurgency, and nocturia. A number of alpha-l-adrenergic drugs-doxazosin (Cardura), prazosin (Minipress), terazosin (Hytrin),and tamsulosin (selective alpha I-A receptor blocker- FLOMAX) for example-have been used for this purpose. One recent study found that 10 mg of terazosin daily produced a 30% reduction of BPH symptoms in about two-thirds of the men taking the drug. Lower daily doses of terazosin (2 and 5 mg) did not produce as much benefit as the 10 mg dose. Thus, the authors of this report recommended that physicians gradually increase the dose to 10 mg unless troublesome side effects occur. Possible side effects of alpha-adrenergic blockers are: orthostatic hypotension (dizziness upon standing, due to a fall in blood pressure), fatigue, and headaches. In this study, orthostatic hypotension was the most frequent side effect. The authors noted that this problem can be mitigated by taking the daily dose of the drug in the evening. In another study of over 2,000 BPH patients, a maximum of 10 mg of terazosin reduced average AUA Symptom Index scores from 20 to 12.4 over one year, compared to a drop from 20 to 16.3 in patients taking a placebo.

An advantage of alpha blockers, compared to finasteride, is that they work almost immediately; they have the additional benefit of treating hypertension when it is present in BPH patients. However, whether terazosin is superior to finasteride may depend more on the size of the prostate. When the two drugs were compared in a study published in The New England journal of Medicine, terazosin appeared to produce greater improvement of BPH symptoms and urinary flow rate than finasteride. But this difference may have been due to the larger number of men in the study with small prostates, who would be more likely to have BPH symptoms from smooth muscle constriction, rather than from physical obstruction by excess glandular tissue. Doxazosin was evaluated in three different clinical studies involving 337 men with BPH. Patients took either a placebo or 4 to 12 mg of doxazosin a day. The active drug- reduced urinary symptoms by 40% more than the placebo, and increased the urinary peak flow by an average of 2.2 ml/s (compared to 0.9 ml/s in the placebo patients).

Despite the previously held belief that doxazosin was only effective for mild or moderate BPH, patients with severe symptoms experienced the greatest improvement. Side effects-including dizziness, fatigue, hypotension (low blood pressure), headache, and insomnia-led to withdrawal from the study by 10% of those on the active drug, and 4% of those taking the placebo. In men treated for hypertension, the doses of other antihypertensive drugs may need to be adjusted to account for the blood-pressure-lowering effects of an alpha-adrenergic blocker. These drugs may also induce angina in men with coronary heart disease. A doctor will be able to determine which individuals are good candidates for their use.

Surgery ( Prostatectomy)

Prostatectomy is a very common-operation: About 200,000 of these procedures are carried out annually in the U.S. A prostatectomy for benign disease (BPH) involves removal of only the inner portion of the prostate (simple prostatectomy). This operation differs from a radical prostatectomy for cancer, in which all prostate tissue is removed. Simple prostatectomy offers the best and fastest chance for improving BPH symptoms, but may not totally alleviate discomfort. For example, surgery may relieve the obstruction, but symptoms may persist due to bladder abnormalities.

Surgery is also associated with the greatest number of long-term complications, including:

  • impotence
  • incontinence
  • retrograde ejaculation
    (ejaculation of semen into the bladder rather than through the penis)
  • the need for a second operation (in 10% of patients after five years) due to continued prostate growth or a urethra stricture resulting from surgery

    While retrograde ejaculation carries no risk, it may cause infertility and anxiety. The frequency of these complications depends on the type of surgery.

Surgery is delayed until any urinary tract infection is successfully treated and kidney function is stabilized (if urinary retention has resulted in kidney damage). Men taking aspirin should stop taking the drug 7 to 10 days prior to surgery, since aspirin interferes with blood's ability to clot. Transfusions are required in about 6% of patients after TURP and 15% of patients after open prostatectomy.

Since the timing of prostate surgery is elective, men who may need a transfusion-primarily those with a very large prostate, who are more likely to experience significant blood loss-have the option of donating their own blood in advance, in case they need it during or after surgery. This option is referred to as an autologous blood transfusion.

Transurethral prostatectomy (TURP)

This procedure is considered the "gold standard" of BPH treatment-the one against which other therapeutic measures are compared. It involves removal of the core of the prostate with a resectoscope-an instrument passed through the urethra into the bladder . A wire attached to the resectoscope removes prostate tissue and seals blood vessels with an electric current. A catheter remains in place for one to three days, and a hospital stay of one to two days is generally required. TURP is associated with little or no pain, and full recovery can be expected by three weeks after surgery. In carefully selected cases (patients with medical problems and smaller prostates), TURP may be possible as an outpatient procedure.

Improvement after surgery is greatest in those with the worst symptoms. Marked improvement occurs in about 93% of men with severe symptoms and in about 80% of those with moderate symptoms. The mortality from TURP is very low (0.1%); however, impotence follows TURP in about 5 to 10% of men and incontinence occurs in 2 to 4%.

Transurethral incision of the prostate (TUIP)

This procedure was first used in the U.S. in the early 1970s. Like TURP, it is done with an instrument that is passed through the urethra. But instead of removing excess tissue, the surgeon only makes one or two small cuts in the prostate with an electrical knife or laser. These incisions relieve pressure on the urethra. TUIP can only be done on men with smaller prostates. It takes less time than TURP, and can be performed on an outpatient basis under local anesthesia in most cases. A lower incidence of retrograde ejaculation is one of its advantages.

Open prostatectomy

An open prostatectomy is the operation of choice when the prostate is very large - e.g.>80 grams-(since transurethral surgery cannot be performed safely in these men). However, it carries a greater risk of life-threatening complications in men with serious cardiovascular disease, since the surgery is more extensive than TURP or TUIP.

In the past, open prostatectomies for BPH were carried out either through the perineum (the area between the scrotum and the rectum)-called perineal prostatectomy--or through a lower abdominal incision. Perineal prostatectomy has largely been abandoned for the treatment of BPH due to the higher risk of injury to surrounding organs, though it is still used for prostate cancer. Two types of open prostatectomy for BPH-suprapubic and retropubic-employ an incision extending from below the umbilicus (navel) to the pubis. A suprapubic prostatectomy involves opening the bladder and removing the enlarged prostatic nodules through the bladder. In a retropubic prostatectomy, the bladder is pushed upward and the prostate tissue is removed without entering the bladder. In both types of operation, one catheter is placed in the bladder through the urethra, and another through an opening made in the lower abdominal wall. The catheters remain in place for three to seven days after surgery. The most common immediate postoperative complications are excessive bleeding and wound infection (usually superficial). More serious potential complications include heart attack, pneumonia, and pulmonary embolus (blood clot to the lungs). Breathing exercises, leg movements in bed, and early ambulation are aimed at preventing these complications. The recovery period and hospital stay are longer than for transurethral prostate surgery.


Misop Han, M.D., M.S. Alan W. Partin, M.D., Ph.D. Modified from Han and Partin -
Chapter 89, Campbell-Walsh Urology 9th Edition, 2006,
Editors: Wein, Kavoussi, Novick, Partin and Peters., Elsevier Inc.

INTRODUCTION: The treatment options for bladder outlet obstruction due to benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) have been expanded dramatically over the past two decades with the development of medical and minimally invasive therapies. Minimally invasive procedures include visual laser ablation of the prostate (VLAP), transurethral electrovaporization of the prostate (TVP), transurethral needle ablation (TUNA), transurethral microwave thermotherapy (TUMT), interstitial laser coagulation (ILC) and transurethral incision of the prostate (TUIP). However, these approaches are usually reserved for men with moderate symptoms and a small to medium-sized prostate gland.

INDICATIONS: For patients with acute urinary retention, persistent or recurrent urinary tract infections, severe hemorrhage from the prostate, bladder calculi, severe symptoms unresponsive to medical therapy and/or renal insufficiency as a result of chronic bladder outlet obstruction, transurethral resection of the prostate (TURP) or open prostatectomy are indicated. When compared with TURP, open prostatectomy offers the advantages of lower retreatment rate, more complete removal of the prostatic adenoma under direct vision and avoids the risk of dilutional hyponatremia (the TURP syndrome) that occurs in approximately 2% of patients undergoing TURP. The disadvantages of open prostatectomy, as compared with TURP, include the need for a lower midline incision and a resultant longer hospitalization and convalescence period. In addition, there may be an increased potential for perioperative hemorrhage.

SURGERY DISCUSSION: Open prostatectomy can be performed by either the retropubic or suprapubic approach. In Retropubic prostatectomy, the enucleation of the hyperplastic prostatic adenoma is achieved through a direct incision of the anterior prostatic capsule. This approach to open prostatectomy was popularized by Terrence Millin, who reported the results of the procedure on twenty patients in Lancet in 1945.

The advantages of this procedure over the suprapubic approach are

  1. excellent anatomic exposure of the prostate,
  2. direct visualization of the prostatic adenoma during enucleation to ensure complete removal,
  3. precise transection of the urethra distally to preserve urinary continence,
  4. clear and immediate visualization of the prostatic fossa after enucleation to control bleeding, and
  5. minimal to no surgical trauma to the urinary bladder.

The disadvantage of the retropubic approach, as compared with the suprapubic prostatectomy, is that direct access to the bladder is not achieved. This may be important when one considers excising a concomitant bladder diverticulum or removing bladder calculi. The suprapubic approach also may be the preferred method when the obstructive prostatic enlargement includes a large intravesical median lobe. Suprapubic prostatectomy, or transvesical prostatectomy, consists of the enucleation of the hyperplastic prostatic adenoma through an extraperitoneal incision of the lower anterior bladder wall. This approach to open prostatectomy was first carried out by Eugene Fuller in New York in 1894; it was later popularized by Peter Freyer in London, England, who described the procedure in 1900 and later reported the results of his first 1000 patients in 1912.

The major advantage of this suprapubic procedure over the retropubic approach is that it allows direct visualization of the bladder neck and bladder mucosa.

As a result, this operation is ideally suited for patients with

  1. a large median lobe protruding into the bladder,
  2. a clinically significant bladder diverticulum or
  3. large bladder calculi.

It also may be preferable for obese men, in whom it is difficult to gain direct access to the prostatic capsule and dorsal vein complex (. The disadvantage, as compared with the retropubic approach, is that direct visualization of the apical prostatic adenoma is reduced. As a result, the apical enucleation is less precise, and this factor may affect postoperative urinary continence. Furthermore, hemostasis may be more difficult because of inadequate visualization of the entire prostatic fossa after enucleatioin.

SUMMARY: Open prostatectomy, whether performed via a retropubic approach or a suprapubic approach, is an excellent treatment option for

  1. men with symptomatic bladder outlet obstruction due to benign prostatic hyperplasia causing a markedly enlarged prostate gland,
  2. individuals with a concomitant bladder condition, such as a bladder diverticulum or large bladder calculi and
  3. patients who cannot be placed in the dorsal lithotomy position for a transurethral resection of the prostate gland.

With improved surgical technique, these procedures can be routinely performed in a precise manner with minimal hemorrhage. Efficacy, in terms of durable improvement in symptom score and peak urinary flow rate, is superior than other treatment options available for the obstructing prostate gland, including transurethral resection of the prostate. Meanwhile, complications are minimal and the length of hospitalization has been markedly reduced. For most patients, the length of hospital stay is three days or less. Thus, for the properly selected individual, an open prostatectomy is a highly effective and well-tolerated operation.

   Open prostatectomy

  Treatments under investigation

A number of other treatment options have been -or are currently being - evaluated for BPH.

Thermal treatments

These procedures may alleviate symptoms by damaging nerves within the prostate, which may cause smooth muscle relaxation similar to that which occurs with alpha-adrenergic blocking drugs. In general, this damage is accomplished by raising temperatures within the gland to above 113' Fahrenheit. Various methods-microwaves, ultrasound, and radio frequencies-are used to heat the prostate via devices placed in the rectum or urethra. Several treatment sessions may be necessary, and most men-will need additional treatment for BPH symptoms within five years after their initial thermal treatment. Transurethral needle ablation (TUNA) of the prostate uses low-energy radio waves, delivered by tiny needles at the tip of a catheter, to heat prostatic tissue. A six-month study of 12 men with BPH (age 56 to 76) found the treatment reduced AUA Symptom Index scores by 61%, and produced minor side effects (including mild pain or difficulty urinating for 1 to 7 days in all the men). Retrograde ejaculation occurred in one patient. Another thermal treatment, transurethral microwave thermotherapy (TUMT), is a minimally invasive alternative to surgery for patients with bladder outflow obstruction caused by BPH. Performed on an outpatient basis under local anesthesia, TUMT damages prostatic tissue by microwave energy (heat) that is emitted from a urethral catheter.