Although rates of diagnosis and mortality have been declining in recent decades, prostate cancer remains the most common type of non-skin carcinoma among male populations. Monitoring levels of prostate specific antigen (PSA) is an informative and largely effective way to keep tabs on the progression of prostate cancer.
Despite its importance in preventative medicine, not all patients may be familiar with PSA. In this guide from HIFU Prostate Services, we provide you with the information and answers needed to understand prostate specific antigen, from the bodily markers it tracks to its relationship with cancer treatment.
For more information on the research and case studies related to PSA, please contact one of our medical specialists at HIFU Prostate Services today! With treatment locations around the country, it’s easy to find a care center near you.
What Is Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA)?
Antigens are proteins produced naturally in the body that serve as biological markers on internal and external processes. In men, Prostate Specific Antigen is the protein secreted by the gland of the same name, so PSA levels are present and detectable in the blood at all times. A small amount of PSA is normal, but when prostate cancer or other glandular issues manifest, these biomarker levels will increase or fluctuate in significant ways. By performing regular tests for PSA, doctors can determine whether prostate functionality is operating as it should or if its behavior warrants cause for further investigation.
How Does the PSA Test Work?
Tests for PSA levels are conducted by analyzing blood samples from individuals. Like most blood tests for specific biomarkers, the concentration of PSA is measured by a ratio of nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL) of blood. As mentioned, this antigen is a naturally occurring protein that is always present in males, but when a test shows elevated rates of PSA, it’s a strong indicator of prostate cancer. There is no standard minimum or maximum level of PSA that is considered “healthy,” but tracking the progression of ng/mL data on a case-by-case basis can provide an individualized baseline for each man and help doctors determine whether something may be going wrong with prostate function.
Indeed, the PSA test was first approved in the late 1980s after showing effective results in men who had already been diagnosed with prostate cancer. These blood tests are a noninvasive way to monitor the progression of cancer, whether the condition has already been diagnosed or the patient is taking proactive measures to track their overall health. According to the National Cancer Institute, PSA levels may fluctuate or rise due to benign or noncancerous issues such as prostatitis (inflammation of the prostate) or benign prostate hyperplasia (BPH; enlargement of the prostate), so it’s important to have these tests conducted regularly and to have results interpreted by a qualified oncologist.
What Happens If PSA Levels Are Elevated?
If an initial PSA test yields elevated results, your doctor may recommend another test at a later date to compare the numbers. Men who are experiencing symptoms of prostate cancer along with elevated PSA levels will likely be advised to undergo a digital rectal exam (DRE) as well. The subsequent readings and findings help your doctor to discern whether prostate cancer is present or an unrelated or benign issue is causing antigen markers to spike.
Are There Limits or Drawbacks to the PSA Test?
As with any medical diagnostic assessment, there are certain limitations and risks involved with a PSA test. For one, the identification of elevated PSA levels does not necessarily mean that cancer will be completely treatable or minimize the chance of death. This is because cancerous tumors can grow at vastly different rates — small tumors may be detected by a PSA test, but their rate of growth can be slow enough not to warrant serious concern. Conversely, above-average antigen concentrations may be detected when cancer is already in an advanced state of development and the carcinoma has metastasized (spread) to other areas of the body.
Prostate Specific Antigen tests may occasionally yield false positive and false negative results, causing unnecessary stress and confusion in patients. If your doctor is unsure of what your PSA levels indicate, whether elevated or below normal, they may recommend a tissue biopsy for further evaluation. Fortunately, men with elevated PSA levels are more often than not found to be cancer-free. Only about 25% of men who undergo a biopsy to assess elevated antigen levels are diagnosed with prostate cancer.
Should I Get A PSA Test?
Your age, lifestyle habits, and genetic predisposition to prostate cancer are all important variables in determining whether you should get a PSA test done. Your doctor or oncologist can help you figure out the best course of action for your personal needs. For general safety purposes, however, most men will undergo at least one PSA test after the age of 50.
If you have been experiencing any symptoms of prostate cancer, such as difficulty urinating or increased pressure in the bladder area, please contact us at HIFU Prostate Services today. We offer noninvasive treatment alternatives as well as traditional treatment methodologies such as radiation and surgery. Contact one of our Centers of Excellence today to learn more about how we can enhance your health and quality of life!