Can A PSA Test Really Tell If You Have Prostate Cancer?

PSA Test
Editor's Note: This article has been recently updated with latest information and research studies.
 

While prostate cancer may not seem like the deadliest type of cancer that can develop in the human body, it can still take its toll on a man’s health and it can still result in death. Prostate cancer accounts for approximately 10.7% of all cancer-related diagnoses and in 2016, 180,890 new cases of prostate cancer was diagnosed. Around 26,120 individuals with prostate cancer passed away in 2016. Fortunately, as much as 98.9% of individuals diagnosed with prostate cancer survives for five or more years. It is also estimated that around 12.9% of all men will be diagnosed with this cancer at some point in their lives. Furthermore, there were almost three million men diagnosed with cancer in 2013.

Even though the survival rate of prostate cancer is quite high, the medical condition can cause many uncomfortable symptoms. The symptoms of prostate cancer, however, isn’t always present during the early stages of its development, but rather starts to occur once the cancer starts to grow. The most common or burning while urinating, or they find it difficult to urinate. Some patients also experience hematuria (presence of blood in their urine), loss of control over their bladder and frequent urination during nighttime. The condition can also cause blood to appear in semen, make ejaculating more painful and can even lead to numbness in the feet, legs or hips.

Keep on reading and discover more information on the PSA test – what is it, how it is made and what do the results indicate. You will be able to find out valuable facts on psa levels, as well as on the connection between this test and prostate cancer prevention. Keep in mind that there is a clear link between the psa levels and prostate cancer. The psa test for men is a must, especially after you have reached a certain age.

PSA Test – What Is It?

PSA Test Info

A psa test for men is done with a blood sample to determine the level of prostate-specific antigen (which is what PSA stands for) that is present in a man’s blood. Prostate-specific antigen is a type of protein that is produced in the man’s prostate. This protein can be noncancerous, but it can also be cancerous, thus providing evidence that cancer cells are developing in the man’s prostate.

PSA tests are routinely done even when there are no signs of prostate cancer in a man to facilitate for early prostate cancer prevention. This is due to the fact that prostate cancer usually does not cause any symptoms in its early stages, thus it is often not possible for the man to know that he is developing this type of cancer. When a PSA test is done, the doctor looks at the level of prostate-specific antigen proteins in the man’s bloodstream. If levels of this protein are higher than what it should be, then the doctor will perform additional tests to determine if the male patient has developed or is at risk of developing prostate cancer. A PSA test, however, cannot be used to officially diagnose prostate cancer as a high level of PSA proteins in the bloodstream does not necessarily mean that they are cancerous and caused by prostate cancer. Keep on reading to find out more about PSA levels.

What Is The Normal PSA Level?

There is no specific normal PSA level in blood as it may vary over time due to various factors. However, in the past, a normal PSA level was considered to be 4.0 ng/ml or lower than this. This has been despised by recent studies due to the fact that some men with a PSA level below 4.0 ng/ml have prostate cancer.

What is a high PSA Level For Prostate?

An elevated level of PSA may indicate either a noncancerous condition such as enlarged prostate or a prostate cancer. Most men with prostate cancer often have PSA level higher than 4 ng/ml. However, in some rare cases, men with lower than 4 ng/ml can have prostate cancer. Studies indicate that those having a prostate gland that feels normal and has a PSA level of less than four have 15% chances of having prostate cancer. Those having a PSA level between 4 and 1o have 25% chances of having prostate cancer and those above 10 the risk may increase* to up to 67%.

What Can Cause A High Psa Besides Cancer?

There are other many factors that can cause elevated PSA level other than prostate cancer such as:

  • Prostatitis: It is a condition where prostate becomes inflamed as a result of infection or another cause.
  • Benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH): It is a non-cancerous condition often known as enlarged prostate that is extremely common in older men.
  • Recent ejaculation: It leads to a mild increase* in PSA levels, no wonder men are advised to avoid sex for a couple of days before a PSA blood test.
  • Bicycle riding: Strenuous bicycle riding can elevate PSA levels for a few days.
  • Prostate biopsy: biopsy artificially elevates the level of PSA.

PSA Test – What Are The Limitations?

Even though a routine PSA test can be useful in determining whether further tests for prostate cancer should be done, it is important to note that the test has certain limitations. Firstly, a patient should realize that prostate cancer isn’t the only medical condition that causes the prostate to produce a larger amount of prostate-specific antigen proteins. When a man develops certain prostate-related conditions, such as prostatitis (which refers to an infection in the prostate) or benign prostatic hyperplasia (which refers to an enlarged prostate and often simply referred to as BPH), levels of PSA may also increase*. The prostate also naturally creates more of this protein as a man ages.

PSA Test Limitations

PSA tests also have other limitations:

  • Certain health issues, such as obesity, can cause PSA scores to become lower. There is also some medication, such as drugs that are used to treat* urinary tract problems and benign prostatic hyperplasia, which can lower the production of the protein. Thus, the test may not accurately resemble the development of prostate cancer in men who meets these conditions as their psa levels might be normal even if they do have developed cancer in their prostate.
  • As much as 42% of all men who have been diagnosed with prostate cancer through a PSA test didn’t have tumors that resulted in any harmful symptoms throughout their entire lifespan.
  • Some men with prostate cancer have normal levels of PSA proteins, while others have elevated levels of the protein. This means that a man who has prostate cancer, but normal PSA protein scores, cannot be pre-diagnosed with a PSA test.

Conclusion

Prostate problems among men are rather common. While benign prostatic hyperplasia and an infection in the prostate can be problematic, prostate cancer can be fatal, but often doesn’t cause symptoms before the cancer starts to grow. For this reason, a routine PSA test is often recommended for men. This test, however, might not be as effective in determining whether a man is at risk of prostate cancer that one might think due to the numerous limitations of the test itself.

In conclusion, the PSA Test is a routine investigation but one that offers valuable information about the health of the prostate. As you have seen, psa levels can indicate prostate problems and they are essential for the prostate cancer prevention. Do not forget about the connection between psa levels and prostate cancer. The psa test for men should be performed on a regular basis, in order to identify the risk of prostate cancer.

References:

https://seer.cancer.gov/statfacts/html/prost.html

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Author

Expert Author : Dr. Ahmed Zayed (Consumer Health Digest)

Dr. Ahmed Zayed Helmy holds a baccalaureate of Medicine and Surgery. He has completed his degree in 2011 at the University of Alexandria, Egypt. Dr. Ahmed believes in providing knowledgeable information to readers. Other than his passion for writing, currently he is working as a Plastic surgeon and is doing his masters at Ain shams University.