Prostate cancer gets the publicity, but a far less well-known prostate problem — prostatitis — affects many more men. Experts estimate that as many as 50% of all men will develop it at some point in their lives, making it one of the most common urologic diseases in the U.S. today.

Prostatitis is an infection or inflammation of the prostate gland that causes intense pain, urinary problems, sexual dysfunction, infertility and a significant reduction in quality of life.

The disease is difficult to diagnose and treat, and has a wide range of debilitating side affects. Unlike prostate cancer and benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), prostatitis often affects the young and middle-aged.

The prostate is a gland located just below the bladder and in front of the rectum. It wraps around the urethra, the tube that carries urine from the bladder. The prostate produces most of a man's semen.

To diagnose prostatitis, a physician will collect a urine sample and examine the prostate gland via a rectal examination. A sample of prostate fluid may also be taken and analyzed.

Some physicians may want to test the blood for prostate specific antigen, or PSA. Both prostatitis and prostate cancer can increase PSA levels.

The most common type of prostatitis is known as nonbacterial prostatitis. The symptoms include frequent urination and pain in the lower abdomen or lower back. Causes include stress and infrequent sexual activity.

According to Dr. Leroy Nyberg, Jr., director of Urology Programs at the National Institutes of Health, treatments for nonbacterial prostatitis may include anti-inflammatory or muscle relaxant drugs, hot baths, drinking extra fluids, trying to relax while urinating and ejaculating more frequently. Some experts may also recommend changes in diet.

As its name implies, acute bacterial prostatitis is caused by infection — from bacteria, a virus or a sexually transmitted disease. Symptoms include fever and chills, lower back pain, frequent and painful urination, and weak or infrequent urination.

Dr. Nyberg explains that these infections are commonly treated with antibiotics, bed rest, stool softening drugs and increased fluid intake.

Any man who experiences any of the symptoms described above should see a physician or urologist right away.