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What Is PSA Test For Prostate Cancer?

Updated on October 3, 2012

Photo Credit:  Flickr Horia Varlan

PSA Testing and Prostate Health

I do not claim to be an expert by any means on PSA testing and the subject of prostate health. However, I do know that I am married to someone who is at high risk for prostate cancer simply because of his family history.

Years ago, when the PSA test first came out, I made sure (and still do) that my husband gets his PSA test yearly and that he also has an examination by his doctor because the older men get, the more at risk they become.

Let's examine this statistic - Between 30,000 and 40,000 men will die of prostate cancer this year!

Although prostate cancer when detected early is curable, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure as they say.

What is the PSA Test?

Quite simply stated, the PSA test stands for Prostate Specific Antigen.  It measures the protein released by the prostate gland. It is a simple blood test and although there is some controversy about how accurate this test is, there are also other tests that in combination with the PSA test, are the best measure for detecting prostate cancer and detecting it early.

Who are those most at risk for developing prostate cancer? Simply stated, any man can develop prostate cancer and those statistics go up especially after age 65. However, here are some of the people most at risk.

  • African-Americans (Asian and Native American men are at significantly lower risk)
  • Any man with a family history of prostate cancer - especially in a father or a brother
  • Men with high fat diets especially high in animal fats
  • Men over 65 years of age
  • Men over 40 years of age if they have a family history or are African-American

The PSA test is a simple blood draw and normal levels should be below 4. Levels between 4 and 9 need followup and further testing such as a digital rectal exam, rectal ultrasound and perhaps a biopsy to confirm prostate health and rule out malignancy.

Prostate Cancer Screening

It is recommended that African-American men beginning at age 40 and/or men with a family history have a PSA yearly.

For all other men, it is recommended that PSA testing begin at age 50 and should be done yearly. Medicare covers this after age 50 as well.

For recurrence of prostate cancer, the PSA test is used as an early indicator of the cancer coming back. Usually the prostate has been all but removed but sometimes there can be a regrowth and the PSA test will alert physicians to rising prostate proteins in the bloodstream.

As stated above, over 30,000 to 40,000 men will die of prostate cancer.

Statistically, 96% diagnosed with prostate cancer, however, survive at least 5 years; 75% survive at least 10 years. Lastly, 63% of prostate cancer occurs in males 65 years or older.

Prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer that kills men - second only to skin cancer.


Things To Know About PSA Testing

There are several things that can skew the PSA test so if someone is going to have this test done or if you know someone having this test done, here are some important facts!

  • Men should abstain from sex for at LEAST 2 days before the test. Ejaculation 2 days before testing will give a false result because of prostate proteins circulating in the body.
  • Long bike rides or massage of prostate for several days before testing can also skew the results for the same reason - stimulation of the prostate gland.
  • Infection can alter the results - infections such as epididymitis.
  • Benign prostatic hypertrophy can cause falsely elevated levels so make sure there is an exam along with the test if the level is elevated. A scope through the bladder may also be required to determine if it is benign enlargement of the prostate instead of a malignant prostatic source for elevation in the level.
  • Inflammation of the prostate such as prostatitis.
  • Again, age and race can be determining factors in levels.
  • There are also false-positive and false-negative results - too high or too low. There is no replacement for the digital rectal exam especially in men at risk or men over 50 and this should be performed yearly. Retesting can also prove effective and there are other more sensitive tests that they are applying now in conjunction with PSA testing such as genetic diagnostic testing for gene mutations.
  • Medical experts are also recommending that the levels be readjusted and downgraded to normal levels considered 2.5 to 3.0. There is still research ongoing on this, however.

Ways to Improve Prostate Health

There has been a great deal of research (and some controversy as well) about improving prostate health but here are some of the recommendations:

  • Maintain a diet low in fat - especially animal fat
  • Saw palmetto is said to improve prostate health
  • B vitamins, vitamin C, vitamin E and zinc are said to be good for prostate health
  • Fatty acids, amino acids, pumpkin seeds are also said to be valuable additions to diet
  • Cutting out high-fat, high-carbohydrate containing foods provide better health to the urinary tract
  • Reducing alcohol and caffeine are also beneficial in maintaining good urinary health
  • Avoiding spices and citrus have also shown promise in promoting good urinary health
  • Reduce stress in your life
  • Exercise regularly
  • Sex in moderation - 2 times per week is recommended for cardiovascular health as well

Summing It Up

When it comes to prostatic health, especially if you fall into the risk categories listed above, there is no substitute for relying on your medical professional to manage this important aspect of men's health. 

Get those yearly examinations, guys - and if your doctor feels you need blood testing, get it done!  Your family and friends depend on you and want you around for many, many years to come. 

Keep yourself healthy and fit and even should the worst happen, you will be better equipped physically to deal with the disease and be one of the positive statistics. 

PSA Testing for Prostate Cancer Detection


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