Although cancer is not something we generally want to think about, it is unfortunately a part of life. However, there are many simple ways to test for cancer that could end up saving your life. One such test is the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test, which may detect signs of prostate cancer even before normal symptoms appear. PSA is a protein made by the prostate gland and is found in the blood. Although there is no specific normal or abnormal PSA level, high levels of PSA may suggest the presence of prostate cancer. The PSA test involves taking a blood sample, which is then sent to a laboratory.
If your doctor is concerned about your PSA level, a biopsy is usually the next step in identifying the presence of cancer. Age is the number one risk factor for prostate cancer, as 63 percent of cases occur in men over the age of 65. However, the PSA test is recommended for men over age 50. Men who are at a higher risk for prostate cancer are encouraged to test earlier, around age 40. This includes African American men and those who have a family history of prostate cancer. There are some limitations of the PSA test to be aware of. Sometimes tests appear positive when PSA levels are high, but no cancer is actually present. The PSA test may also detect small cancers that never become life-threatening. This over-diagnosis could lead to unnecessary medical treatments. In fact, most men with a high PSA level do not actually have cancer. High PSA levels may be due to race, an increase in age, or noncancerous conditions such as inflammation, prostate enlargement and infection. Although not necessary for everyone, a PSA test may be beneficial in detecting slow-growing cancers early, allowing time for accurate diagnosis and treatment of prostate cancer. As with any medical treatment plan, talk with your doctor to discuss your risk for prostate cancer and determine what steps are right for you.
Many factors can affect the health of your family. Click here for simple tips from Gregory Sweat, MD on how to keep your family well.