IT'S AN ILLNESS that brings chronic discomfort, pain, and sometimes shame. It's causes aren't entirely clear, and it's treatment is so elusive that doctors often advise sufferers to 'learn to live with it'. But in Xian, one doctor believes that he's developed a technique that will bring relief to sufferers of chronic prostatitis. So certain is he of the power of his treatment that his website declares that through his unblocking treatment, 'Chronic Prostatitis has met its Waterloo.' In an unassuming office on the 21st floor of an office building in Xian's industrial technology zone is a small clinic dedicated to researching a problem that few understand - prostatitis, a non-lethal ailment sometimes called 'the forgotten prostate disease'. Yet prostatitis is the most common urilogical problem among men younger than 50, and to those who suffer its symptoms (ranging from frequent urination to chronic lower back pain to sexual dysfunction and painful ejaculation), it's non-lethal quality comes as little consolation. Treatment is uncertain. A course of antibiotics might provide temporary relief to one patient, but not another. One man might swear by herbal medicine while another might spend a small fortune on specialty supplements such as raw palmetto and stinging nettle for months without finding relief. At the website of the Prostatitis Foundation ( www.prostatitis.org ) sufferers from around the world share their experience in coping with this chronic ailment. Some are willing to go to great lengths to find a doctor who specialises in the treatment of chronic prostatitis. One of these is Dr George Yuan Lu. A graduate of Zhejiang Medical University, Lu is a urologist who has spent the last decade treating patients suffering from chronic prostatitis. For the last decade, his clinic has attracted patients from around the world willing to endure more than just a trip to central China in hope of curing their problems. Lu is the originator of 'unblocking', a series of treatments mixing Chinese medicine and intense prostatic massage that he claims can both help patients to be free of their symptoms and to return an enlarged prostate to its former healthy size. But the process is not for the faint of heart. 'The prostate is made of 30 to 50 acini (small channels in the gland, each with its own opening to the upper urethra). It is my belief that patients suffering from chronic prostatitis actually have bacteria and other microorganisms living, reproducing and releasing toxins inside of these acini. 'Bacteria that is present in these acini may not be present in urine, or even in the urethra, which is why so many patients are diagnosed with non-bacterial prostatitis. My technique can return the process to it's normal size and shape, and can reverse the process of calcification (a hardening of the gland).' Lu's 'unblocking technique' involves applying a mixture of Chinese medicine and antibiotics directly onto the prostate itself through the rectum. This is combined with a strenuous massage of the prostate that causes the prostatic acini to expunge their toxins. The process is not comfortable. But according to Lu, for the sufferer of chronic prostatitis, the promise of long-term relief far outweighs the short-term discomfort. Hu Dai Hong, a 37-year-old banker from Xian, had been a patient of Lu's for over a year. His story is similar to that of many sufferers of bacterial prostatitis. 'Before undergoing unblocking, I'd suffered from a constant low-level pain for nearly 10 years that, in the end, had me contemplating suicide. I'd see one doctor and he'd prescribe an antibiotic. The symptoms would lessen for a while then came back. Then the antibiotics stopped working, so I'd see another doctor.' He says. 'The worst part was that I couldn't really tell anybody. I mean, if I had constant migraines, or a bad back, there's no stigma. But a guy my age really doesn't want his friends to know he's got a bad prostate.' After undergoing Lu's unblocking treatment and giving up liquor, Hu says the symptoms went away for good. 'He probably wouldn't even be here today,' says Lu 'but he started drinking again last month, and now he's complaining of mild symptoms.' Hu looks down a bit sheepishly. 'Nobody to blame but myself this time' he says. He then drops his trousers, grits his teeth and bends over while Lu goes to work with gloved and lubricated index finger. During the course of the digital rectal exam, he presses Hu's prostate hard enough to bring forth a sample of prostatic fluid from his urethra, which he then examines under a microscope. Afterwards, Lu tells Hu that his prostate is in much better condition than it was a year ago, and that another round of unblocking treatment shouldn't be necessary if the patient can give up the bottle for good. Hearing this, Hu looks infinitely relieved. 'The treatment is not comfortable.' He says. 'It's quite painful.' 'What you just saw was merely an examination,' says Lu. 'During an actual unblocking treatment, I massage the prostate quite vigorously. Some of my patients cry. But they always thank me afterwards.' Lu then points to pictures and postcards from men who'd come from as far away as Canada and Britain for treatment. 'Many of these men saw unblocking treatment a last hope after an endless series of trial-and-error treatments.' While Lu is confident about the validity of his unblocking technique, he is more reticent to make any hard pronouncements as to the cause of chronic prostatitis. His field of study is rich in theory and speculation, but the causes of prostate ailments are still far from fully mapped out. Probably one of the most controversial opinions that Lu holds is his belief that there is a link between prostatitis and excessive masturbation. Even in this, the doctor treads lightly. 'I do not make this claim from any sort of moral or religious standpoint.' He says: 'All that I know is what my patients tell me, and so many of them tell me that they are or had been frequent masturbators that I cannot help but draw a connection.' Lu declines to define how much masturbation is too much masturbation, saying instead saying that it's probably an individual thing. 'As far as sexuality and the prostate is concerned, I think that moderation and regularity is the best policy for patients suffering from symptoms. Again, it's an individual thing. I also think condom use is a good idea for pretty much anybody but the most monogamous couples, as in addition to preventing other things it also provides a barrier against bacteria which can contribute to prostatitis.' To men concerned about keeping their prostate healthy, Lu offers advice based on his own studies. 'There are some things that are obvious to me.' He says. 'Anyone with prostate problems should avoid alcohol and spicy foods. Some say that coffee irritates the prostate, but as the majority of my patients are Chinese and don't drink the stuff, I can't really say.' Regarding recent studies suggesting that masturbation might prevent prostate cancer, Lu says that this, like much else in the field of prostate study, is still speculation. 'Again, I think the key here is moderation. I'm sure that this study isn't suggesting that men engage in masturbation to excess.' However, it is Lu's opinion that there is a connection between chronic prostatitis and prostate cancer, 'though I have no proof' he quickly adds. 'They both affect the same area of the prostate, so it seems to me possible that a long term case of prostatitis could turn to cancer. Maintaining a healthy prostate is a good idea in any event.' For further information: The Xian Ren-Ai Clinic 21/F, Maple-leaf Edifice, Gao Xin Road, Xian Hi-Tech Development Zone, Xian, China 710075. Telephone: (86 29) 831 5519. Fax: (86 29) 832 9787. Cell: 1390 921 3691. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.ren-ai.com . For more information about chronic prostatitis, visit the Prostatitis Foundation at www.prostatitis.org .