What is Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA)?
PSA is a substance produced by the prostate and released into a man’s blood. Healthy men usually have low amounts of PSA in the blood. The amount of PSA in the blood normally increases as a man’s prostate gland enlarges; which is typical as a man ages. Elevated levels of PSA may suggest prostate cancer, however there are other reasons why elevated levels may be present: as a result of an injury, a digital rectal exam, recent (24 hours) sexual activity (ejaculation), or inflammation of the prostate gland (prostatitis). When combined with a digital rectal exam at your doctor’s office, the test increases the chance of detecting prostate cancer. A PSA level within the normal ranges does not mean that prostate cancer is not present. Also, some men with prostate cancer have normal PSA levels.
How Often Should Men Have a PSA Test?
First, it is important to determine if the man has increased risk for prostate cancer. This would include if there is a family history of prostate cancer and/or if you are of African decent; both of which would put a man at higher risk for prostate cancer. It is recommended that PSA testing occur more frequently if you are high risk.
For those not at high risk, the American Urology Association recommends a baseline PSA screening
at 40 and 45, followed by annual screenings at age 50. Establishing a baseline PSA value is a way to track what level is normal, as it varies by individual, and determining if the PSA levels change over time.
What if a PSA Test Result is High?
Some studies indicate that high test results may lead to unnecessary treatment in some patients, but a good clinician can assess the best protocol given the health history of the individual. Many times, a repeat test will be done to rule out any actions that could elevate the prostate temporarily. It is important to discuss all test results with your physician. They have the knowledge, family history background and expertise to properly diagnose.
If the physician believes there is cancer, it is important to discuss the various treatments available: watchful waiting, aggressive treatments, or something in between. Age, health status, family history and potential side effects should be discussed to determine the best protocol.
Why Should I Get Tested?
Prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer (besides skin cancer) in men and the second cancer killing illness of men in the US. The PSA test allows for early detection and is an easy blood test. A small amount of blood is taken from a vein and tested. It’s an easy test yet provides potentially life saving information.
A PSA test can help detect certain types of prostate cancer early; this can be critical for some cancers. Elevated PSA results may reveal prostate cancer that could spread to other parts of your body (metastasize), or they may reveal a quick-growing cancer that’s likely to cause other problems.
Early diagnosis typically leads to early treatment before the cancer becomes life threatening or causes serious symptoms. If a less aggressive treatment can be used early, then there is a reduced risk of side effects such as erectile dysfunction and incontinence.
Take control of your health and get your PSA blood test