Prostate specific antigen is a simple blood test that can be a metric for prostate health. It is a good screening test for prostate cancer. This blog will discuss the PSA test and what you need to know to make a decision to obtain this common test.
Let’s start by reassuring men that having an elevated PSA level does not necessarily mean you have prostate cancer.
PSA is also likely to be increased with benign enlargement of the prostate gland as well as prostate infections or prostatitis.
It is important to emphasize that the PSA test is not a specific prostate cancer test, but it is a vital first step in screening for the potential presence of cancer.
The other factors that can cause PSA levels to rise:
- Age: PSA levels can increase gradually as you age
- Prostatitis: Inflammation of the prostate gland, due to infection or some unknown cause
- Benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH): This condition refers to an enlarged prostate. More prostate means more cells making prostate specific antigen, increasing the potential for an elevated PSA.
- Urinary tract infection: can irritate and inflame prostate cells and cause PSA to go up
- Medications: Some medications like Proscar, Avodart, or Propecia can falsely lower your PSA. This too is important to remember. If you are on any of these medications, talk to your doctor. The general rule of thumb is to double your PSA for an accurate score.
- Sex/ejaculation: This can cause a mild elevation in the PSA, but should return to normal after a few days. That is why I usually recommend that men refrain from sexual intimacy for 48 hours prior to PSA testing
- Prostate trauma: Anything that causes direct trauma to the prostate such as riding a bike, having a catheter inserted into the blader, a prostate biopsy, or a cystoscopy which is a look using a lighted tube through the urethra (tube in the penis that transports semen and urine) can increase the PSA temporarily.
A PSA level of less than 4.0 ng/mL is normal, while changes of more than 2.0 ng/mL over the course of a year could be an indicator of the presence of prostate cancer.
I point out that there is a familial or inherited basis of prostate cancer and also an increased risk of prostate cancer in African-American men. In these men who are are at a greater risk of prostate cancer, I suggest annual testing with a digital rectal examination and a PSA test after age 40. For all others, I suggest testing begin at age 50.
For men who have an elevated PSA test, then a discussion with the doctor about repeating the test in a few weeks or proceeding to an ultrasound examination and a prostate biopsy is in order.
Bottom Line: PSA testing is a non-specific test used to screen for prostate cancer. Not all elevations of the PSA test indicate cancer. Further testing and close monitoring as well as a prostate biopsy is in order. For more information, speak to your doctor.