The PSA test is considered to be an important parameter to check the possibilities of prostate cancer, however, its accuracy has always been questioned. This HealthHearty article will throw light on some of its aspects.
Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) is a protein produced by the prostate gland which is present in a man’s body. A healthy prostate gland is almost the size of a walnut and is located at the neck of the bladder. It surrounds the tube that helps the exit of sperms and urine, called urethra. However, due to various factors such as age, ethnicity, family history, etc., cancer may develop in the prostate gland and result in elevated PSA levels. The PSA test helps in detecting these levels, thereby contributing in identifying the possible chances of prostate cancer. It should be noted that prostate cancer is not the only reason why these levels may be elevated. This arises a conflict in the accuracy of this test and its contribution in detecting prostate cancer.
Prostate cancer is the second leading cancer in men after skin cancer. The PSA test helps in detecting this cancer by monitoring the PSA levels. The test results work this way: Its measuring unit is nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL), and normally the test results between 0 to 4 ng/mL, are considered to be normal. Men who have their results between the range of 4 to10 ng/mL have 25% chances of developing prostate cancer, which is why this range is also considered to be the ‘gray zone’. Apart from setting these ranges, it has happened many a time, that in spite of getting a PSA test done, doctors have failed to diagnose prostate cancer. In fact, some men have normal PSA levels despite having the cancer.
According to the National Cancer Society, 1 out of 4 men having prostate cancer have relatively lower PSA values. On the contrary, there have been men who have had higher values, but no development of prostate cancer was found. Therefore, it can be said that this test is helpful only when combined with other tests and examinations including free PSA, Digital Rectal Examination (DRE), and biopsy. Experts suggest that biopsy should be recommended only if the results are less than 25%. Many times, multiple sessions of biopsy are required to diagnose the presence of prostate cancer. Therefore, the accuracy of PSA test alone, is questionable.
It is due to the aforementioned factors that experts, which include the American Cancer Society and the American Urological Association, have strictly recommended doctors to conduct PSA tests only on men who are more than 50 years old. Apart from that, this test can be conducted on those who have a family history of the disease or come from a different ethnicity. For example, men from African-American descent are more prone to developing prostate cancer.
Anyone who has the symptoms similar to this cancer, such as frequent urination, back pain, pelvic pain, painful urination, and has a close relative who has suffered from prostate cancer, is also eligible for conducting this test. The American Cancer Society advises doctors to conduct tests and examination on these men on an annual basis, so that cancer may be diagnosed before it is too late for treatment.
The bottom line is that diagnosing prostate cancer based on the PSA results alone, is not recommended. According to a report published in the Journal of American Medical Association and the New England Journal of Medicine, PSA test when conducted with DRE, results in 70% increased chances of detecting prostate cancer. Therefore, ensure that you go through a series of tests and examinations, and take multiple opinions of healthcare specialists before making a conclusion.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is meant for informational purposes only and should not be considered as a replacement for expert medical advice.