The cells of the prostate gland in men produce a specific protein which is referred to as prostate specific antigen or PSA. The FDA has approved the PSA test, and doctors rely on the test numbers to a great extent for the diagnosis of prostate cancer. All men over 50 should undergo the test every year.
Blood Test, DRE, and Biopsy
Blood PSA levels are measured by performing a simple blood test. Patients should know that an increase in PSA is observed in some non cancerous prostate disorders too, for example, in benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH) or enlarged prostate. Inflamed prostate or prostatitis is also a benign condition. If the PSA numbers are higher than normal, doctors might advise a DRE (digital rectal exam) to assess prostate health. If doctors have any doubt, they would suggest one more blood test after a few weeks to see whether the numbers have come down to normal level or not. If not, biopsy is performed, and then the final conclusion is drawn.
Importance of Reexamination
If the levels are slightly high, patients are asked to wait and watch. Treatment is delayed, but these patients need to check the levels regularly, as suggested by the doctor. Those who have undergone prostate surgery or chemotherapy, also need to check the PSA levels. After complete removal of the gland, PSA should be 0 ng/mL. The test results help determine the effectiveness of the treatment. An increase in the level of blood PSA after undergoing the treatment shows recurrence of cancer.
PSA less than 4 ng/mL (nanograms per milliliter of blood) is considered as normal. Some laboratories consider PSA level less than 2.5 ng/ml as the normal level. According to them, this helps prevent prostate cancer in more number of people as the cancer is detected at an early stage. But according to others, this might lead to over-diagnosing, and it is not fair to treat a condition which may never cause serious health problems in future.
Interpretation of Test Results
|Less than 4 ng/mL||Normal|
|4 - 10 ng/mL||20 - 30 % risk of cancer|
|10 - 20 ng/mL||50 - 75 % risk of cancer|
|Above 20 ng/mL||90 % risk of cancer|
Though prostatitis and BPH do not cause cancer, people with prostatitis or BPH can develop prostate cancer. So monitoring PSA levels is very important. It is important to consult your doctor for correct interpretation of the test results.
The levels of PSA are low in young men. Elevated levels are usually noticed in elderly men. Statistics show that American men of African origin are more likely to develop prostate cancer. Genetics also plays an important role in the development of the cancer. It is recommended that men above 40 who belong to the 'greater risk zone' should undergo a PSA test every year.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.