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The PSA Test

What Should You Know About the PSA Test?

By

Updated June 10, 2014

Nurse taking blood from patient in hospital
Blend Images/ERproductions Ltd/Blend Images/Getty Images

The PSA (prostate specific antigen) test is now used throughout the world as a screening tool for prostate cancer.

What are the most important facts to know about the PSA test?

What Is Prostate Specific Antigen?

Prostate specific antigen is a protein produced by prostate cells. It can be detected at low levels in men of all ages, but increases when the prostate enlarges or becomes inflamed.

This protein is called prostate specific antigen because it is made almost exclusively by the prostate. In rare instances, it can also be produced in other tissues (like breast tissue), but the majority of PSA comes from the prostate.

What Is the PSA Test?

The PSA test is a way for your physician to measure the amount of PSA that is present in your blood. A small sample of blood is taken and then sent to a lab for analysis. The level of PSA is then reported back to your physician who can then analyze the results.

When Should You Get a PSA Test?

A number of categories of men should get the PSA test (along with a digital rectal examination (DRE). You should contact your physician and schedule the test for any of the following reasons:

  • If you have any of the most common symptoms of prostate cancer.

  • If you are 50 or over regardless of whether you have symptoms. You should continue yearly testing as well.

  • If you are 40 or over and have significant risk factors for prostate cancer such as being African American or having a strong family history of prostate cancer. You should continue yearly testing as well.

  • If you are currently undergoing any type of treatment for prostate cancer. The PSA test is one way in which your disease is monitored for possible recurrence.

Most physicians agree that, after a certain age, the PSA test becomes less important. For instance, after the age of 75, most men are more likely to pass away from another disease or condition (most commonly heart disease) than to die of prostate cancer. For this reason, detecting prostate cancer is less important and, thus, the PSA test is also less important in this group of men.

Is Prostate Cancer the Most Common Cause of a High PSA?

No. Prostate cancer is only one of many possible causes of an elevated PSA. The most common causes are either an inflammation of the prostate (prostatitis) or a benign enlargement of the prostate (BPH).

Further reading about the causes of an elevated PSA is available.

What Should I Do If My PSA Is Elevated?

First of all, don’t panic. There are many causes of an elevated PSA and prostate cancer is not the most common.

Second, make sure to follow-up with your doctor. Some men become so worried over their test results that they try to avoid what they expect will be bad news by also avoiding their physician. This is not a good strategy. Even if your elevated PSA is due to prostate cancer, if treated early, prostate cancer is usually curable.

If you have an elevated PSA level, your physician will perform a digital rectal exam (DRE) and may order more tests to determine what the cause of your elevated test result is. Information about the standard tests used to diagnose (or rule out) prostate cancer is available as well.

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