A PSA test can help to diagnose prostate cancer before it spreads too far. There has been much debate of late whether PSA screening saves men’s lives or merely leads to the over-diagnosis of very slow-growing cancers causing worry and unnecessary treatments.
What does PSA stand for? “Prostate-specific antigen” (PSA) is a protein produced by cells of the prostate gland. The PSA test measures the level of PSA in your blood. Your doctor takes a blood sample, and the amount of PSA is measured in a laboratory. Because PSA is produced by your body and can be used to detect disease, it is sometimes called a “tumor marker.”
It is normal for men to have a low level of PSA in their blood; however, prostate cancer or benign (not cancerous) conditions can increase a man’s PSA level. As men age, benign prostate conditions and prostate cancer become more common. The most frequent benign prostate conditions are prostatitis and benign prostatic hyperplasia. There’s no evidence that prostatitis or BPH causes cancer, but it is possible for a man to have one or both of these conditions and to develop prostate cancer as well.
A man’s PSA level alone does not give doctors enough information to distinguish between benign prostate conditions and cancer. However, the doctor will take the result of the PSA test into account when deciding whether to check further for signs of prostate cancer.
For men who have low PSA levels at the age of 60, a new study shows that they may not need further screening.
On the other hand, the research team involved in the study advised that men with a high PSA reading – 2.0 nanograms per milliliter (ng/ml) or above — should be monitored, as they have an increased risk of developing cancer.
The study followed 1,200 men for 25 years, until they reached the age of 85. The researchers found that PSA at age 60 was a good predictor of which men were at risk for prostate cancer. Of the 126 men diagnosed with prostate cancer, 90% of deaths from the cancer were among the 25% of men with the highest PSA levels when they were 60.
However, men with a PSA level below 1.0 ng/ml have only a 0.2% chance of death from prostate cancer. The researchers also noted that, while some men with a low risk of prostate cancer may actually develop the disease, it is not likely to be symptomatic or shorten their life by the age of 85.
The research team concluded that if you live until age 60, you have not been diagnosed with prostate cancer and your PSA is less than 1.0 ng/ml, then your risk of getting prostate cancer is very low.