Archive for the ‘PSA elevation’ Category

The New Skinny On Prostate Cancer Screening With the PSA Test

April 11, 2017

Prostate cancer remains one of the most common cancers in men and is the second most common cause of death from cancer in men.  (Lung cancer is still leading the list)  The American Cancer Society projects more than 161,000 new cases this year in the U.S., with about 26,730 deaths each year.  Prostate cancer accounted for 4.4% of all cancer deaths in the United States last year.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, an independent and influential panel of experts, published new guidelines in early April 2017 for screening for prostate cancer for the first time in five years.

The new recommendations: Men ages 55 to 69 should “make an individualized decision about prostate cancer screening with their clinician.” That’s updated from a blanket recommendation in 2012 for no routine screening at any age.

The task force also recommends that those men older than 70 shouldn’t undergo PSA screening.

Now doctors are saying that the older recommendation in 2012, i.e., not to screen for prostate cancer likely resulted in deaths that could have been avoided..

The PSA test is a simple blood test that determines levels of the prostate-specific antigen protein, and elevated PSA can be a sign of prostate cancer. But elevated PSA can also be caused by other conditions, like inflammation of the prostate or benign enlargement of the prostate gland.

The risk of potential harm of over-diagnosis has led to confusing recommendations for screening. Treatment for prostate cancer, including removal of the prostate and radiation, is associated with the side effects of incontinence and erectile dysfunction.

False positives can lead to unnecessary further testing or treatment, and many cases of prostate cancer are slow-moving and require watchful waiting rather than immediate treatment.  This means that the men with slow growing, non-aggressive cancer can be followed with a digital rectal exam, frequent PSA testing, and perhaps additional prostate biopsies.

So how useful is PSA screening? According to the New England Journal of Medicine, studies imply that 1 prostate cancer death is averted per 1,000 men screened several times each, and followed for 10 to 15 years.

On the flip side, the authors reported, data show about 35 over-diagnosed cases per 1,000 men screened.

Some groups are at higher risk for prostate cancer, including African-American men and those with a family history of the disease.

Bottom Line: It is my recommendation to my patients 55-69 they have a discussion with their physician and weigh the benefits vs. the harms of PSA testing.  With that discussion the men can make the best choice for themselves, together with their doctor.

The Skinny On Screening for Prostate Cancer

December 29, 2016

Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer among men (after skin cancer), according to the American Cancer Society. It is the second most common cause of death in following lung cancer and causes nearly 30,000 deaths annually in the United States.  The good news is that often prostate cancer can be treated successfully, especially when caught in its early stages.   More than 2 million men in America count themselves as prostate cancer survivors, according to the American Cancer Society.

At the present time screening for prostate cancer is controversial in the medical profession.  There are physicians who believe that testing all men for prostate cancer outweighs the benefit because it may find some very slow growing cancers in some men that could be left alone without any negative consequences. My personal opinion is that prostate cancer screening should be done but requires education and a decision made between doctor and patient.

My belief is that if prostate cancer is detected early, it has a favorable  prognosis. If men ask me what are the early signs of prostate cancer, the answer is that there are NO early signs of prostate cancer when it is confined to the prostate gland.  That is why men need to have an examination or the digital rectal examination and a PSA test.

Risk factors help determine who should be screened when

The protocol starts by evaluating men for their risk factors for developing prostate cancer. Risk factors include: age (after age 50 risk of prostate cancer rises rapidly); race (men of African-American and Caribbean descent are at higher risk); and family history (men who have a father, brother, or uncle with prostate cancer are at a higher risk of developing prostate cancer and should be screened on a regular basis) Men should be screened every year until they reach age 70 or 75. For most men who reach age 70 and all their screening tests are normal, the chances of their developing a cancer that would impact their well-being or their longevity is really low.

Managing the elevated PSA test

If your screening detects a possible cancer, your doctor will order a biopsy. This is done in the office under a local anesthesia and takes 10-15 minutes.  If the biopsy detects prostate cancer, then the next step is to determine the aggressiveness of the cancer or how likely it is to spread or grow.  For men with low-risk tumors that are not going to put their health or longevity at risk, I will often recommend surveillance, which means regular testing of the PSA and a follow up biopsy in 12-18 months.  As long as the PSA remains stable and there is no evidence of escalation of the cancer, then these men can be safely followed and only treated if the cancer appears to be growing or the PSA is steadily increasing.  Men with more aggressive tumors may need surgery and\or radiation. You and your doctor will make the best treatment decisions for you together.

Bottom Line:  Prostate cancer is a common cancer and can easily be diagnosed with prostate cancer screening.  Not all men need to be screened, but if you are between 50 and 70 years of age, speak to your doctor about the benefits of screening and make an informed decision if screening is right for you.

PSA Testing for Prostate Cancer-To Screen or Not to Screen That is the Question

September 28, 2016

Today, nothing is more confusing for men than the concept of screening for prostate cancer.  Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer in men, following lung cancer, and there are 250,000 men each year diagnosed with prostate cancer and causes nearly 30,000 deaths a year.  About one in seven men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during his lifetime.

But some prostate cancers develop slowly, and, as the disease is more common in elderly men, most men with prostate cancer die with it and not from it. Thus, screening, diagnosis and treatment of the disease are controversial.

There is no consensus about prostate cancer screening as early diagnosis can be associated with very bothersome side effects such as erectile dysfunction and urinary incontinence.  Also screening has not been universally shown to increase survival or decrease the death rate from prostate cancer.  This article will discuss the pros and cons of PSA screening for men.

Men who opt for screening undergo a digital rectal exam and a blood draw to measure a chemical called PSA or prostate specific antigen. This level of PSA can be increased in men with prostate cancer. Other conditions may cause the increase in the PSA such as benign enlargement of the prostate gland and prostate infections.

The best way to detect an early potentially deadly case is to collect yearly PSA tests over three to five years so trends can be assessed.

I like most other urologists are concerned about over treatment of prostate cancer — in other words, being too aggressive in using surgery or radiation when a small amount of potentially slow-growing cancer is found on a biopsy.

The federal government has also become concerned about this issue. A large medical research trial called the Prostate Lung Colorectal and Ovarian (PLCO) Cancer Screening Study released results from 2009 showing no benefit from screening for prostate cancer when comparing a large group of unscreened men to a large group of aggressively screened men.

Researchers across the country are assessing the effects of the USPSTF recommendations on prostate cancer mortality since 2012. In a recent study from Northwestern University in Chicago, researchers found a significant increase in the cases of advanced prostate cancer already spread to other parts of the body from 2004 to 2013. As a result we could be missing serious cancers because of decreased screening.

Prostate cancer also has a hereditary predilection and men with a father, brother, cousin, or uncle should consider having screening around age 40.  This also applies to African-American men who have a greater risk of prostate cancer than Caucasian men and should also have testing after age 40.

My best advice is to ask your doctor\urologist about the decision to undergo prostate cancer screening.

PSA Testing-What Every Man Needs to Know

January 18, 2016

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.

Prostate Biopsy Negative? What’s Next?

November 21, 2015

There are over 1 million men who have a prostate biopsy each year.  Many of the biopsies are negative.  What can a man do who has an elevated PSA level and a negative biopsy to be certain that he doesn’t have prostate cancer and avoid having a second biopsy?

Lots of controversy surrounds the standard PSA (prostate-specific antigen) screening test for prostate cancer, which is unreliable and not specific for the disease. This uncertainty has prompted many men to ask, “Is there a better test for PSA?” Fortunately, there are options which, while they don’t replace the current PSA test, can provide significantly more reliable, actionable information.

The PSA test involves a blood draw and measuring the level of the blood protein, prostate specific antigen. Currently, men whose PSA test levels are between 4 ng/mL and 10 ng/mL typically are told they should consider getting a prostate biopsy. However, an elevated PSA can be caused by many different benign conditions such as benign enlargement of the prostate gland, a prostate infection or simply lifestyle habits, which means a biopsy would be an unnecessary invasive procedure.

Why we need more accurate testing?

Approximately 1.3 million prostate biopsies are performed annually, and less than one third of them reveal cancer. While that sounds like good news on one hand, on the other hand it means that two thirds of those biopsies may not have been necessary and/or these men have negative biopsy results but other clinical risk factors for prostate cancer such as a family member who has prostate cancer or being an African-American man who have a slightly greater risk for prostate cancer than a Caucasian man.

If you have been in this situation, you probably know how frustrating and confusing it can be. What should you do? Have a repeat biopsy or choose to have more tests? The uncertainty of having a hidden prostate cancer can lead men to get repeat biopsies, which can be associated with an increased risk of infection, hospitalization, emotional trauma, and significant costs.

Fortunately, some progress is being made in the realm of better testing for prostate cancer and in determining whether a prostate biopsy is necessary. In this blog I will discuss the PCA3 test that may be helpful and prevent additional biopsies and additional psychological anxiety.

PCA3 Test

PCA3 is an acronym for Prostate CAncer gene 3. Prostate cells have PCA3 genes that are responsible for making this prostate cancer-specific protein. Prostate cancer cells produce higher levels of PCA3 than do healthy cells, and when the level of PCA3 protein is high, it leaks into the urine, where it can be measured. Unlike the PSA test, PCA3 is not affected by benign prostatic hyperplasia (enlarged prostate) or other noncancerous prostate conditions such as prostatitis.

To take the PCA3 test, you must first have a digital rectal examination (DRE), which stimulates the PCA3 to enter the urine. Then you must immediately provide a urine sample. Typically, it takes 1 to 2 weeks to obtain the results of the PCA3 test. For diagnostic purposes, the higher the PCA3 score, the more likely a man has prostate cancer. When the PCA3 score is used to help with treatment, the higher the score, the more aggressive the prostate cancer is likely to be.

The Food and Drug Administration approved the PCA3 test in 2012. Physicians can use the PCA3 score, in addition to DRE and PSA test, to help them make treatment decisions. For example, knowing a man’s PCA3 score can be helpful when:

  • Men have a family history of prostate cancer
  • Men have a positive biopsy, because their PCA3 score can provide additional information about how aggressive the cancer may be and therefore, be helpful in determining which treatment approach is best
  • Men have an elevated PSA or a suspicious DRE and are considering a prostate biopsy
  • Men have a negative result on their biopsy but the doctor is still uncertain about the presence of cancer
  • Men have a positive result on their biopsy and they and their doctor want to better understand how aggressive the cancer is
  • Men who have early, nonaggressive prostate cancer and have chosen active surveillance want to monitor any possible cancer progression

How effective is the PCA3 score in detecting prostate cancer? This question was addressed in a study involving 859 men who were scheduled to undergo a prostate biopsy. The authors found that use of the PCA3 test improved over-detection of low-grade prostate cancer and under-detection of high-grade cancer. Cost of the PCA3 test is about $450. The test is paid by most insurance companies including Medicare.

Bottom Line:  Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men and the second most common cause of death in men.  The PSA test is a good screening test for men between the ages of 50 and 70.  However, there are false positive results with consequences of unnecessary prostate biopsies or may result in unnecessary repeat prostate biopsies.  The PCA3 test is helpful in identifying prostate cancer or helpful in reassuring a man that he doesn’t have prostate cancer and can avoid a repeat biopsy.  For more information, speak to your urologist.

Treating Prostate Cancer With Hormone Therapy

September 28, 2014

For men with advanced prostate cancer, hormone therapy is a treatment option. The goal is to reduce levels of male hormones, called androgens or testosterone, in the body, or to prevent them from reaching prostate cancer cells. Using drugs to decrease the testosterone is one of the most common methods of treating advanced prostate cancer.

The main androgens are testosterone and dihydrotestosterone (DHT). Most of the body’s androgens come from the testicles, but the adrenal glands also make a small amount. Androgens stimulate prostate cancer cells to grow. Lowering androgen levels or stopping them from getting into prostate cancer cells often makes prostate cancers shrink or grow more slowly for a time. However, hormone therapy alone does not cure prostate cancer and eventually, it stops helping.

Hormone therapy may be used:

  • If you are not able to have surgery or radiation or can’t be cured by these treatments because the cancer has already spread beyond the prostate gland
  • If your cancer remains or comes back after treatment with surgery or radiation therapy
  • Along with radiation therapy as initial treatment if you are at higher risk of the cancer coming back after treatment (based on a high Gleason score, high PSA level, and/or growth of the cancer outside the prostate)
  • Before radiation to try to shrink the cancer to make treatment more effective

Several types of hormone therapy can be used to treat prostate cancer. Some lower the levels of testosterone or other androgens (male hormones). Others block the action of those hormones.

Treatments to lower androgen levels

Orchiectomy (surgical castration)

Even though this is a type of surgery, its main effect is as a form of hormone therapy. In this operation, the surgeon removes the testicles, where most of the androgens (testosterone and DHT) are made. With this source removed, most prostate cancers stop growing or shrink for a time.

This is done as a simple outpatient procedure. It is probably the least expensive and simplest way to reduce androgen levels in the body. But unlike some of the other methods of lowering androgen levels, it is permanent, and many men have trouble accepting the removal of their testicles.

Some men having the procedure are concerned about how it will look afterward. If wanted, artificial silicone sacs can be inserted into the scrotum. These look much like testicles.

Luteinizing hormone-releasing hormone (LHRH) drugs

These drugs lower the amount of testosterone made by the testicles. Treatment with these drugs is sometimes called chemical castration because they lower androgen levels just as well as orchiectomy.

Even though LHRH analogs (also called LHRH agonists) cost more than orchiectomy and require more frequent doctor visits, most men choose this method. These drugs allow the testicles to remain in place, but the testicles will shrink over time, and they may even become too small to feel.

LHRH analogs are injected or placed as small implants under the skin. Depending on the drug used, they are given anywhere from once a month up to once a year. The LHRH analogs available in the United States include leuprolide (Lupron®, Eligard®), goserelin (Zoladex®), triptorelin (Trelstar®), and histrelin (Vantas®).

When LHRH analogs are first given, testosterone levels go up briefly before falling to very low levels. This effect is called flare and results from the complex way in which LHRH analogs work. Men whose cancer has spread to the bones may have bone pain. If the cancer has spread to the spine, even a short-term increase in tumor growth as a result of the flare could compress the spinal cord and cause pain or paralysis. Flare can be avoided by giving drugs called anti-androgens for a few weeks when starting treatment with LHRH analogs. (Anti-androgens are discussed further on.)

Degarelix (Firmagon®)

Degarelix is an LHRH antagonist. LHRH antagonists work like LHRH agonists, but they reduce testosterone levels more quickly and do not cause tumor flare like the LHRH agonists do.

This drug is used to treat advanced prostate cancer. It is given as a monthly injection under the skin and quickly reduces testosterone levels. With degarelix no anti-androgens are necessary. The most common side effects are problems at the injection site (minimal pain, redness, and swelling) and increased levels of liver enzymes on lab tests. Other side effects are discussed in detail below.

Abiraterone (Zytiga®)

Drugs such as LHRH agonists can stop the testicles from making androgens, but other cells in the body, including prostate cancer cells themselves, can still make small amounts, which may fuel cancer growth. Abiraterone blocks an enzyme called CYP17, which helps stop these cells from making certain hormones, including androgens.

Abiraterone can be used in men with advanced castrate-resistant prostate cancer (cancer that is still growing despite low testosterone levels from LHRH agonists, LHRH antagonists, or orchiectomy). Abiraterone has been shown to shrink or slow the growth of some of these tumors and help some of these men live longer.

This drug is a pill and the most common dose is 4 pills every day. Since this drug doesn’t stop the testicles from making testosterone, men who haven’t had an orchiectomy need to continue with treatment to stop the testicles from making testosterone (LHRH agonist or antagonist therapy). Because abiraterone lowers the level of other hormones in the body, prednisone (a cortisone-like drug) needs to be taken during treatment as well to avoid the side effects caused by lower levels of these other hormones.

Bottom Line:  Nearly 250,000 cases of prostate cancer are identified each year.  Nearly 40,000 men die from prostate cancer, second most common cause of death due to dancer after lung cancer.  For men who have elevated PSA levels after treatment, hormonal therapy is a consideration.