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To PSA or Not To PSA

by Institute for Vibrant Living

Prostate cancer is one of the most common cancers in the U.S., affecting one in every seven men. If not detected at any early stage, it can be a killer; but there is currently controversy over the standard prostate specific antigen test used to detect it.

What is the Prostate Specific Antigen Test for Prostate Cancer?

The prostate specific antigen test is a simple blood test which is commonly used by doctors to determine the presence of prostate cancer. The test works by measuring the prostate specific antigen (PSA), a protein produced by the prostate gland, in a man's blood. If the blood test shows higher than normal levels of the prostate specific antigen, further more intrusive tests can then be undertaken to assess the problem.

The prostate specific antigen test is the first line of defense in diagnosing prostate cancer at an early stage. Unfortunately the test is not 100% reliable, according to a Canadian Journal of Urology report.   The unreliability of the prostate specific antigen test means that a man with prostate cancer may not show elevated levels of PSA. The protein is present in the blood in very low quantities and may be difficult to detect. Some men with prostate cancer may have normal PSA readings and would be totally unaware of the presence of prostate cancer, which has few symptoms until it is in a late stage. 

Age affects the natural presence of PSA, as the amount generally increases in older men. A normal PSA reading can be anything from 1 to 4 ng/mL.

Other problems can cause elevated PSA, such as inflammation in the urinary tract, prostatitis, or the presence of benign prostate hyperplasia (enlargement of the prostate due to non-cancerous prostate gland cells). In some cases, an unnecessary biopsy may be ordered due to misleading results from a prostate specific antigen test.

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Reliable Tests for Prostate Cancer

Men who have a family history of prostate cancer are particularly at risk of developing the disease. They should not rely solely on a prostate specific antigen test although it can be used as a regular additional safeguard.

The most reliable test for prostate cancer is to have an annual digital rectal exam. If there is any sign of the presence of prostate cancer, a biopsy of the prostate cells can then be arranged to rule out the possibility of cancer. A biopsy is the only sure way to determine whether cancer or abnormal cells are present. In the meantime, having regular prostate specific antigen tests and monitoring any increase in PSA can be a sensible preventative measure against prostate cancer.

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