HealthFocused

Educational health information to improve your well-being.

A Simple Blood Test for Prostate Cancer

October 10, 2019
Published in: Cancer

doctor and a male patient talking with their hands on the table

One of the most common health concerns affecting men is the possibility of facing prostate cancer. Second only to skin cancer in prevalence, prostate cancer will affect 1 in 9 men during their lifetime. Every year that equates to approximately 164,000 new cases and nearly 30,000 deaths. While prostate cancer is a serious condition requiring treatment for most men, prostate cancer is non-lethal.

In fact, there have been many advancements in the diagnosis and treatments of prostate cancer that have led to better outcomes for patients. Among the diagnostic tools that have been developed, the Prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test provides an easy way for doctors to test for prostate cancer. Here's how the PSA test is benefiting men at risk for prostate cancer.

What is PSA?

Prostate-specific antigen or PSA is a protein that contains sugar and is produced by cells in the prostate. PSA's main job is to liquefy semen making it easier for sperm to swim. However, some PSA is also found in the bloodstream. First discovered in semen in 1966, it wasn't until 1979 that PSA was discovered in the blood. In the early 1990's PSA was approved as a screening tool for prostate cancer. Now, PSA testing is used in a variety of ways by doctors working with patients with prostate cancer.

The Power of PSA

PSA testing is used in many ways that are beneficial to patients. PSA tests are used to diagnose patients at risk for prostate cancer or are having symptoms that may be attributed to prostate cancer. They also give doctors insight into non-cancerous issues with the prostate. In addition, PSA levels help doctors understand the effectiveness of prostate cancer treatments. With a simple, safe, and inexpensive blood test, doctors are able to harness the power of early detection – a key factor in successful treatment of prostate cancer patients.

How Does PSA Testing Work?

Healthy men have PSA levels under 4 nanograms per milliliter(ng/ml) of blood. Levels above 4 ng/ml indicate that a person is at risk of having prostate cancer. Levels between 4 and 10 ng/ml indicate a 25% chance of having prostate cancer. A level over 10 (ng/ml) carries a 50% chance of having prostate cancer. After assessing the PSA levels, a doctor may decide to repeat the test or move forward with a prostate biopsy to test for the presence of cancer cells. In some instances, patients with prostate cancer will test under 4 ng/ml, and other diagnostic tools besides the PSA test are necessary. Elevated PSA levels can also be caused by other conditions like an inflamed prostate or even certain medications. Despite these outliers, PSA testing is still an important tool in diagnosing prostate cancer.

Risk Factors for Prostate Cancer

Doctors have valuable insight into the primary risk factors for developing prostate cancer. These include:

  • Age: Men 50 years and older are at greater risk for developing prostate cancer. In fact, most cases of prostate cancer are found in men over the age of 65. Screening and testing may also be recommended for men younger than 50. Check with your doctor to determine at what age you should be tested.
  • Race/Ethnicity: African-American men are more likely to develop prostate cancer.
  • Family History: Having a first-degree relative like a father or brother that has had prostate cancer doubles the risk of developing the disease

Along with the primary risk factors, there is also suspicion that certain factors like high-fat diets, obesity, smoking, chemical exposures, prostate inflammation, and sexually transmitted diseases could be secondary risk factors for prostate cancer.

Symptoms of Prostate Cancer

When symptoms of prostate cancer do develop, they most commonly result in:

  • Trouble urinating
  • Blood in the semen
  • Pain in the pelvic area
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Aching bones

Check with your doctor immediately if you're experiencing any of these symptoms.

While a cancer diagnosis is a cause for concern, there are effective treatments that offer hope. It's important to report any symptoms and take steps to develop and maintain a healthy lifestyle.