PSA: The Prostate Cancer Screening Test

 prostate cancerProstate cancer is the second most common cancer in American men, following skin cancer. One in every seven men will be diagnosed with this form of cancer in his lifetime; with the average age of diagnosis being age 66.

In terms of fatalities, only lung cancer comes with a higher mortality rate. Prostate cancer is a serious disease; however, there is much to be hopeful about. While it is true that one out of 39 men will die of prostate cancer; there are 2.9 million American men who were previously diagnosed with prostate cancer, yet are still alive.

Screening tests for prostate cancer are available. A protein called prostate-specific antigen (PSA) is made in the prostate gland and circulates in the blood. The PSA blood test can check for how much PSA is present, which serves to screen for prostate cancer.

This test, while saving many lives, is not perfect. There are many cases of positive PSA screening turning out to be false positives. Of men with an elevated PSA who undergo a prostate biopsy, only 25% end up actually having prostate cancer. Nonetheless, it remains one of the few tools at our disposal to diagnose prostate cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends that men talk with their health care provider about whether the PSA screening test is right for them. In general, though, the following can serve as guidelines for who should consider the PSA test:

  • Men who are 50 years old and who are expected to live at least 10 more years.
  • Men who are 45 years old and who have a high risk based on race and/or family history.
  • Men who are 40 years old and who have a very high risk based on family history (multiple relatives with prostate cancer at a young age).

An abnormal result on the PSA screening test generally indicates the need for a prostate biopsy to determine if there is prostate cancer. Some tumors grow so slowly that they’re unlikely to ever be life-threatening. The goal is for only the patients at highest risk to undergo a biopsy and, if needed, treatment for prostate cancer. There are more medications than ever before available for the treatment of prostate cancer.

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