Posts Tagged ‘PSA’

To Screen or Not to Screen For Prostate Cancer-That Is the Question.

August 6, 2017

Helping to answer the questions of screeing for prostate cancer

Prostate cancer is one of the most common cancers to affect men and is the second most common cause of cancer death in men following lung cancer.  There are over 30,000 deaths in the U.S. each year from prostate cancer.

Screening for prostate cancer has been controversial for the past few years.  A U.S. Task Force recommended against screening all men for prostate cancer.  This task force felt that there were too many false positive tests, too many prostate biopsies and too many men receiving treatment such as radiation therapy and surgery which result in complications such as erectile dysfunction\impotence and urinary incontinence.

Now that same Task Force released new recommendations that men aged 55-69 consider screening after a discussion with their doctor about the risks and benefits associated with screening and then the men and their doctors should decide on the best course of action regarding proceeding with a screening PSA test.

It is true that screening offers a small potential benefit of reducing the chance of dying of prostate cancer.

The same Task Force recommends against screening for men 75 years of age and older.  As many of these men will have slow-growing prostate cancer and will not likely succumb to the cancer but likely will die of some other cause.

My advice for men with a family history of prostate cancer, that is a man with close relative such as father, brother, or uncle with prostate cancer strongly consider having a PSA blood test as there is an increased likelihood of prostate cancer and an increased risk of dying from prostate cancer in men with relatives who have the disease.  The same advice also applies to African-American men who also have an increased risk of developing prostate cancer.

Bottom Line:  Not every man needs to be screened for prostate cancer.  However, every man should have a discussion with their doctor and review the benefits vs. the risks of screening and then make the screening decision.

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Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Instead of a Prostate Biopsy

May 24, 2017

For several decades I have ordered PSA testing as a screening test for prostate cancer, the most common cancer in middle aged men and the second most cause of death, following lung cancer, in men.  The PSA test is now controversial as a result of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommended five years ago that men forgo the test because the blood test led to too many inaccurate prostate biopsies, which in turn resulted in diagnosis  of insignificant prostate cancer or cancers that were so slow growing that no treatment was required and also resulted in many men who received treatment and had side effects and complications that significantly impaired their quality of life.

Now, however, there is true progress in prostate cancer detection, bringing a new era of minimal intervention yet maximum accuracy of diagnosis and treatment. The single most important factor in this change is the addition of multiparametric MRI (mpMRI) before having a prostate biopsy. There is compelling research-based evidence, both in the U.S. and abroad, that mpMRI can help determine if a biopsy is not yet necessary. This means sparing men from conventional TRUS-guided biopsy that has a discouraging track record of inaccuracy. On the other hand, if mpMRI detects a suspicious area, a real-time MRI guided targeted biopsy facilitates pinpoint diagnosis and treatment matching.

According to a newly published article, “Prebiopsy MRI followed by targeted biopsy” appears to have the ability to overcome the limitations of the standard 12-core template [biopsy]. The authors of the review point out that both the American Urological Association and the Society of Abdominal Radiology have confirmed the utilization of MRI prior to biopsy.

I hope you have found this blog helpful.  If you have any questions about managing your elevated PSA, please let me hear from you.

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.

Treating Prostate Cancer By Close Monitoring or ActiveSurveillance

November 25, 2016

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in older men and second most common cause of death due to cancer in men over the age of 50.  This year more than 180,000 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer and more than 30,000 men will die of this disease.  There are multiple treatment options for prostate cancer including surgery, radiation, hormone therapy and now there’s a new option: watchful waiting or active surveillance.  Active surveillance means no treatment but careful monitoring with regular digital rectal exams, PSA testing, and possible other tests and\or imaging studies.  This blog is intended to help men who have received a diagnosis of prostate cancer to help guide them in the decision of active surveillance or more aggressive standard treatment options.

What you need to know

The prostate gland is a walnut-sized organ at the base the bladder and surrounds the urethra or the tube in the penis that transports urine from the bladder to the outside of the body.  The prostate gland’s function is to make the fluid that mixes with the sperm and provides the sperm with nourishment to help fertilize an egg and start the process of conception.

For the first part of a man’s life the prostate gland provides pleasure and enjoyment.  After age 50 for reasons not entirely known, the prostate gland starts to grow and compresses the tube or the urethra and produces difficulty with urination.  Again, for reasons not entirely known the prostate cells grow uncontrollably and this results in prostate cancer.

Prostate cancer is a very common as one in seven American men will develop prostate cancer.

There are two tests used to detect prostate cancer: 1) the digital rectal exam and 2) the PSA or prostate specific antigen test.  PSA is a protein made by the prostate gland.  An increased level of PSA can be a sign of prostate cancer but an elevation is also seen in men with prostate gland infections and benign enlargement of the prostate gland.

Active surveillance is now considered an acceptable management option in certain men with prostate cancer.  Active surveillance is a type of close follow up. In addition to the PSA and digital rectal exam, a repeat biopsy may be indicated.  A biopsy test called a fusion-guided biopsy is one of these newer tests that combines the MRI with real-time ultrasound images of the prostate.  Genomic tests are another development for prostate cancer assessment.  These tests look at the DNA of the cancer to decide if the cancer is stable or growing.  If any of these tests indicate that the cancer is growing, you may require additional treatment.

At the present time there is no universal agreement about how often the tests should be done for men who are participating in active surveillance.  Patients who are at low risk, that is have a low PSA and a biopsy that reveals a reasonably favorable pathology report, then he can have his PSA check every six months.  It is also common to have a repeat biopsy 12-18 months after the diagnosis.

Candidates for Active Surveillance

Men with early stage prostate cancer that is confined to the prostate gland are the best candidates for active surveillance.  Also, good candidates are men without symptoms and have prostate cancer that is slow growing.  Finally, older men with serious other medical problems which may interfere with treatment are potential active surveillance candidates.

The benefits of active surveillance is that it is low cost, safe, and has no side effects.  Men are able to maintain day-to-day quality of life and not have any of the complications of treatment such as impotence\ED or urinary incontinence.  The risk is that men can become complement and not follow up as often as they should and that the cancer can grow and become more aggressive.

Bottom Line:  Prostate cancer is a common problem in middle age and older men.  Most men if they live long enough will develop prostate cancer.  However, most men with the diagnosis of prostate cancer will die with the cancer and not from it.  My best advice is to have a conversation with your doctor and see if active surveillance is right for you and your cancer.

The Care and Feeding of the Enlarged Prostate Gland

October 21, 2016

If you are a man, then you have a prostate gland.  If you have a prostate gland, then you are likely to be one of the 14 million American men who experience bothersome symptoms beginning around age 50.  This article will discuss the diagnosis of the enlarged prostate gland and what are some of the available treatment options that can reduce the symptoms associated with this common condition.  It is a walnut sized organ at the base of the bladder and surrounds the urethra or tube that is in the penis and transports urine from the bladder to the outside of the body.  It is common and even normal for the prostate gland to become enlarged as a man ages. Though the prostate continues to grow during most of a man’s life, the enlargement doesn’t usually cause problems until middle age or around 50. BPH rarely causes symptoms before age 40, but more than half of men in their sixties and as many as 90 percent in their seventies and eighties have symptoms of BPH.

The prostate gland encircles the urethra like a donut, so problems with urination can occur if the gland restricts urine flow through the urethra. As the prostate enlarges, the layer of tissue surrounding it stops it from expanding, causing the gland to press against the urethra like a clamp on a garden hose.

The following changes occur over a period of time.

  • The bladder wall becomes thicker and will contract without the owner’s permission causing urgency of urination.
  • The bladder begins to contract even when it contains small amounts of urine, causing more frequent urination.
  • Eventually, the bladder weakens and loses the ability to empty itself. Urine remains in the bladder.

The narrowing of the urethra and partial emptying of the bladder cause many of the problems associated with BPH.

Some problems associated with BPH are

  • Urinating more often during the day
  • Need to urinate frequently during the night
  • Urinary urgency, which means the urge to urinate is so strong and sudden, you may not make it to the toilet in time and soil your clothing-very embarrassing!
  • The urine stream is slow to start
  • Dribbling after urination
  • A sensation that the bladder isn’t emptied after urination
  • Lack of force to the urine flow, which makes aiming more difficult
  • The sensation of needing to go again a few minutes after urinating

Diagnoses

You may first notice symptoms of BPH yourself, or your doctor may find that your prostate is enlarged during a routine check-up. The doctor can determine the size of the prostate gland during a physical examination.

The diagnosis is made with several of the following tests:

Symptom Score

This is a brief questionnaire that provides a numerical value to the symptoms associated with urination.  The higher the score (maximum is 25), the more symptoms a man has and the more likely he will want to have treatment for relief of his symptoms.

Urinalysis

A urine sample is taken to look for signs of blood and infection.

Digital Rectal Examination (DRE)

Your doctor inserts a gloved finger into the rectum to feel the condition of the prostate that lies close to the rectal wall. If your doctor feels something suspicious such as a lump or bump, further tests will be carried out. Other tests are needed to enable a more accurate diagnosis. 

Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) Test

A blood sample is taken by your doctor to check for prostate specific antigen (PSA), which is produced by the prostate and is increased by cellular abnormalities within the prostate.

As men get older the prostate gland grows and so the PSA is likely to rise. A high PSA may indicate some type of prostate disease. The level can be raised due to inflammation of the prostate (Prostatitis) and enlargement of the prostate gland (Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia or BPH).

Urine flow rate

This test consists of a man urinating in private over a funnel which measures the volume of urine and the time that it takes to empty the bladder.  The urine flow rate is expressed in milliliters per second.  Normal is greater than 15 ml\second.

Urodynamics

Sometimes the doctor will ask a patient to urinate into a special device that measures how quickly the urine is flowing. A reduced flow often suggests BPH.

Imaging studies

The ultrasound examination evaluates the size of the prostate gland which often determines the treatment option which is best for your situation.  It is a painless examination consisting of the insertion of a small pencil-size probe into the rectum and uses sound waves to determine the appropriate treatment for prostate gland enlargement.

Cystoscopy

In this exam, the doctor inserts a small tube through the opening of the urethra in the penis. This procedure is done after a solution numbs the inside of the penis so all sensation is lost. The tube, called a cystoscope, contains a lens and a light system, which help the doctor see the inside of the urethra and the bladder. This test allows the doctor to determine the size of the gland and identify the location and degree of the obstruction.

Treatment options

  1. Watchful waiting-If the person has BPH but is not bothered by the symptoms, the patient and the doctor may decide to simply wait and monitor the condition regularly. This option requires regular check-ups with the doctor – usually once a year – to see if the condition is getting any worse.
  1. Drug therapyYour doctor may advise drug therapy which aims at shrinking the enlarged prostate. The doctor will select the medication that best suits the condition, keeping in mind the person’s general health condition, medical history, medications taken for other conditions and quality of life considerations.
  1. Minimally invasive treatments-The prostatic urethral lift or UroLift is an implant of several polyester sutures connected by two small metallic tabs that opens the prostate gland located in the urethra and improves the flow of urine thus decreasing the symptoms of the enlarged prostate gland. UroLift has been approved by the FDA to relieve the symptoms of the enlarged prostate gland. There have been nearly xx thousand of men who have had the treatment which reports favorable results up to 4 years. Most insurance companies will now pay for the UroLift procedure 
  1. Surgery-Surgery is another option for the treatment of BPH. The most common type of surgery for BPH is TURP (Trans Urethral Resection of the Prostate). This procedure requires an admission to the hospital, a general anesthesia, a urinary catheter for several days, and the risk of sexual problems afterwards.

Bottom Line:  Nearly all men will experience the problems associated with the enlarged prostate gland.  The enlarged prostate gland impacts a man’s quality of life.  Help is available and nearly all men can be helped.  If you have symptoms associated with urination, speak to your doctor.

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.

Tomatoes and Not Potatoes May Help Prevent Prostate Cancer

July 8, 2016

For many years I have been focused on nutrition and various urologic diseases, especially prostate cancer.  Although the relationship between prostate cancer and diet is certainly a consideration, the use of tomatoes may be one of the strongest preventive options a man can take to avoid prostate cancer.

There are many health advantages of eating more tomatoes, which includes a lower risk of prostate cancer and other cancers as well. While the good news is Americans eat more tomatoes and tomato products than any other non-starchy vegetable, about 90% of adult men fail to consume the 2.5 cups of vegetables per day recommended by the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Tomatoes contain a high antioxidant content, specifically lycopene. Lycopene has been the subject of many research studies regarding its protective effect against prostate cancer.

In men with prostate cancer, lycopene supplementation has been shown to be safe and tolerated well in doses up to 120 mg per day for up to one year. Toxicity is generally very mild, with diarrhea as a possible side effect at very high doses.

There appears to be a protective effect of tomatoes and tomato products on the prevention of prostate cancer as well as improvements in biomarkers of disease status, including the PSA levels.

A unique characteristic of tomatoes is that unlike the nutrients in other fresh fruits and vegetables, lycopene is more bioavailable after tomatoes are cooked and processed. This fact opens up even more possibilities for individuals to enjoy the benefits of lycopene.

According to the US Department of Agriculture National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, ½ cup of tomato paste contains 18.84 mg of lycopene, while an equal amount of tomato sauce has 17.12 mg, spaghetti sauce has 15.82 mg, and tomato juice has 10.88 mg of lycopene.  One-half cup of raw tomatoes, however, contains only 2.32 mg of lycopene. Non-tomato products that contain lycopene include watermelon (1/2 cup has 3.44 mg) and grapefruit (1/2 fruit contains 1.75 mg).

More recent hypotheses have looked at the advantages of whole tomatoes, which are excellent sources of vitamins A and C, fiber, and potassium, and identified other protective elements beyond lycopene. Vitamins A and C are potent antioxidants, while fiber has been shown to reduce cholesterol, and potassium is helpful in lowering blood pressure and possibly reducing bone loss.

Experts in nutrition and cancer note that the preponderance of evidence suggests that consumption of whole tomatoes and tomato products should be preferentially recommended because of greater consistency of documented positive outcomes with the whole tomato and the concomitant supply of other important essential nutrients.

Given that tomatoes and tomato products are already dietary favorites, increasing their consumption can achieve several goals, including reduction in the risk of prostate cancer and other diseases, and helping Americans achieve the recommended daily intake of 2.5 cups of vegetables.

Bottom Line: Prostate cancer is the most common cancer (besides skin cancer) in men and the second most cause of death in men following lung cancer.  Men can be easily diagnosed with a PSA test and a digital rectal exam.  Man can also decrease their risk of prostate cancer by consuming lycopene, an antioxidant, which is plentiful in tomatoes.

Smelling Prostate Cancer

February 19, 2016

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in older men with nearly one quarter of a million new cases discovered each year.  It is the second most cause of death in men with over 25,000 deaths each year.  Now there is a new diagnostic device that can detect prostate cancer in men’s urine.

A new device, Odoreader, was developed in the UK which can be helpful in disgnosing prostate cancer by identifying the unique odor in the urine of men with prostate cancer.

The researchers looked at a total of 155 men of which 58 had been diagnosed with prostate cancer by evaluating their urine with the Odoreader. The researchers found that Odoreader was able to successfully identify patterns of volatile compounds from urine samples, and detect those that indicate cancer.

Unfortunately at the present time there is no accurate test for prostate cancer. The standard used to day is the PSA blood test. The PSA test is not specific for prostate cancer and may also detect other prostate conditions such as benign enlargement of the prostate as well as prostate infections. The PSA test indicators can sometimes result in unnecessary biopsies, resulting in psychological toll, risk of infection from the procedure and even sometimes missing cancer cases. This new testing procedure can detect cancer in a non-invasive way by smelling the disease in men’s urine.

The Odoreader could pave the pathway for a new detection technique of prostate cancer, making invasive diagnostic procedures like a prostate biopsy less necessary and potentially saving the lives of many men who fight the disease.

Bottom Line: Prostate cancer is a prevalent medical problem affecting thousands of American men.  Now there is a new technique for the diagnosis of this disease which is non-invasive, accurate, and will help men avoid unnecessary diagnostic studies and perhaps unnecessary surgery.

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.