The word "urology" is a familiar one, but for many, knowledge about what exactly a urologist does and the conditions they treat might be lacking.
These surgical specialists play an important role in the lives of many patients with a wide variety of health needs. So what do urologists treat, what skills are required and when should patients seek their care?
Urology is a surgical and medical field that focuses on the reproductive organs of males and the urinary tracts of both males and females.
According to the American Urological Association (AUA), the field can involve pediatric urology, male infertility, erectile dysfunction, urinary tract stones, urinary tract infections and bladder control issues like urinary incontinence.
Urologists may also be involved in care for kidney disease, urologic cancer and trauma to the genitourinary system, which includes the reproductive organs and the urinary system.
The field has changed a lot as surgical treatments advance and as populations affected by these conditions grow.
"With the aging population and the continued rise in the number of patients with [benign prostatic enlargement], prostate cancer, incontinence, impotence, and infertility, urologists expect to stay quite busy in the coming years," reported the American College of Surgeons.
According to ACS, urologists must graduate from medical school then complete a five-year urology residency program before becoming a certified urologist in the US.
This clinical residency program must include several months focusing on general surgery, several months focusing on a specific surgical training area and a variety of other rotations, including time spent doing research. For the last year of their residencies, urologists must take on the role of chief resident.
Treatments and Procedures
ACS noted that urologists may have a wide variety of focuses in their field, from office practice to minimally invasive procedures to major surgeries.
More minor procedures may include biopsies of the prostate to examine tissue, vasectomies for male sterilization and cystoscopies that allow the physician to examine the inner lining of the bladder. Major surgeries can include removal of a kidney and transurethral resection of prostate (TURP) — a procedure that removes excess tissue from an enlarged prostate.
When to Seek a Urologist
In an interview with dailyRx News, E. David Crawford, MD, Head of the Section of Urologic Oncology at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus had several recommendations for when patients should seek the care of a urologist.
"Seek a pediatric urologist for bladder, kidney, penile and other urologic problems as an infant or child," recommended Dr. Crawford.
Dr. Crawford also suggested that urologists should be approached for help with both benign and malignant diseases of the genitourinary tract. Most commonly, these include diseases of the prostate, bladder and kidney, said Dr. Crawford.
"Women and men with recurrent urinary tract infections, not responding to standard treatments" should also seek out a urologist, Dr. Crawford told dailyRx News.
Patients' general doctor or family physician should be able to refer them to a urologist when these specialists' expertise and care are needed.