Receive the Summa Health eNewsletter for the latest health tips, advice and updates.
Thank you for subscribing to the Vitality eNewsletter.
We're sorry, there was an error while processing your request. Please try again.
Posted November 03, 2019 by Joshua B Nething, MD
It can be difficult to face the idea of getting screened for prostate cancer, and many people opt out due to fear, inconvenience, or lack of knowledge of the symptoms. There is clear scientific evidence that screening with a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test can help identify cancer early on which makes treatment more effective and reduces the number of deaths associated with prostate cancer.
We’ve compiled some valuable information below so that you can discuss with your doctor and ultimately make the best decision for yourself and your situation.
What is PSA?
PSA means prostate-specific antigen, and it is a protein produced by the prostate that’s found mostly in the semen with very small amounts released into the bloodstream. When there is a problem within the prostate, more PSA is released into the bloodstream, and rising PSA can be detected on a simple blood test. High PSA levels can be caused by a variety of circumstances, but since prostate cancer cells usually make more PSA than normal tissue, high PSA levels can be an early sign that cancer cells are present.
What are the advantages of getting a PSA test?
As with any cancer, the earlier you detect it the better. Elevated PSA results may be a sign of prostate cancer that could spread or quickly grow and cause other problems. Early detection and treatment can catch cancer before it becomes life-threatening.
What are the risks of getting a PSA test?
The test itself is not risky – it’s a simple blood draw. High PSA levels don’t always mean cancer and you will need to discuss with your doctor other factors that could be contributing to an elevated PSA.
What is a normal PSA test result?
There is no specific normal or abnormal level of PSA within your blood, and various factors can cause your PSA levels to fluctuate. The American Cancer Society states that most healthy men have levels under 4 nanograms per milliliter of blood, but that lower PSA levels don’t guarantee someone is free of cancer which is why the PSA test is often done along with additional prostate tests. Doctors will often look at how quickly your PSA is going up over time as an indication for prostate cancer.
What if a screening test returns high levels of PSA?
The PSA test is usually done in conjunction with a digital rectal exam (DRE) to check the prostate. If a suspicious abnormality is detected along with elevated PSA levels, a doctor may recommend additional tests to determine the nature of the problem. If prostate cancer is suspected, the doctor will recommend a prostate biopsy.
What do experts recommend?
It is recommended that men age 55 and older discuss the pros and cons of prostate cancer screening with their doctors. This discussion should include a review of your risk factors. If you have a family history of prostate cancer or other risk factors, it may be beneficial to have a conversation with your doctor sooner.
Age, race, family history, inherited gene mutations including the BRCA1 and BRCA 2 genes, and diet are all risk factors for prostate cancer.