Urology is the branch of medicine that deals with the urinary tract in females and with the urogenital tract in males. In both sexes, the urinary tract consists of the kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra. In males, additional structures such as the prostate gland are included in the urogenital system.
The problems with which a urologist deals tend to fall into three general categories: infection, cancer, and stone formation. Cystitis is any infection of the urinary tract. The condition often appears to be centered in the urinary bladder, but is usually associated with infections of other parts of the urinary system. Cystitis is accompanied by frequent and painful urination. It is treated relatively effectively with antibiotics, although other urinary tract problems with which it is associated may require other treatments.
Enlargement of the prostate gland is now one of the most common disorders among males, especially older males. In some cases, the condition is benign and is primarily a matter of inconvenience for men who find that urination becomes more difficult and more frequent. Non-cancerous enlargement of the prostate is known as benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). BPH can be treated surgically by the removal of excess fatty tissue, although a number of urologists now recommend the use of a newly approved drug known as Proscar as a way of shrinking the enlarged gland.
Cancer of the prostate has become one of the leading causes of death among older males in the United States and other parts of the developed world. Some physicians hypothesize that carcinogenic substances in the environment accumulate in the prostate, one of the fattiest organs in the body, and induce tumors. Prostate cancer can be treated with the same surgical techniques used with BPH, although the complete removal of the testicles may be recommended if the cancer has metastasized.
Kidney stones form when certain chemicals that normally dissolve in urine begin to precipitate out and form stones ranging from microscopic particles to marble-size structures. In the majority of cases, the stones are expelled from the urinary system without incident. In some cases, however, they may become lodged in various parts of the system: along the ureter, in the bladder, or in the prostate, for example. When this happens, the stone may cut into tissue and cause extreme pain.
Stones can be removed in a number of ways: surgically, with drugs that dissolve the stony material, or with ultrasound therapy. In the last of these treatments, high frequency sound waves are used to break apart a stone, allowing the smaller fragments to be carried away in urine.
See also Surgery.