Can A Blood Test Determine If You Have Prostate Cancer
When it comes to prostate cancer, screenings play a key role in saving lives. Earlier detection when there are no symptoms leads to earlier treatment and better outcomes. And the good news is that many prostate cancer screenings can be done with a simple blood test. But thats just the start.
Learn more about how the PSA is the first step in the prostate cancer journey.
Understanding the PSA
For more than 20 years, there has been a blood test to monitor men for high levels of a protein called a prostate-specific antigen, or PSA, that is often associated with prostate cancer. Unfortunately, this test is not perfect many harmless conditions can cause heightened levels of this protein, leading to unnecessary tests and procedures that carry their own risk.
The uncertainty over the value of the PSA test led the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force in 2012 to recommend it only be given to people at high risk of prostate cancer. Other groups, including the American Urological Association, opposed this decision at the time.
But that recommendation has been softened. Instead of advising against this test for most men, the task force now suggests that men aged 55 to 69 should talk to their doctor about its risks and potential benefits.
Dr. Vipul Patel, a urologist and robotic surgeon at the AdventHealth, calls that a step in the positive direction.
If youre over 50 years old, get PSA screening and get a rectal prostate exam, he says.
What the PSA Can Reveal
Normal Psa Levels By Age Chart
We mentioned earlier in this article that PSA levels increase with age due to age related growth of the prostate gland. A doctor will therefore take into account an age-adjusted PSA level when discussing your prostate health:
0 to 6.5
Although there are normal PSA levels by age range, it is still important to screen routinely to ensure these normal levels are not rising.
What Are Some Common Prostate Problems
The most common prostate problem in men younger than age 50 is inflammation, called prostatitis. Prostate enlargement, or benign prostatic hyperplasia , is another common problem. Because the prostate continues to grow as a man ages, BPH is the most common prostate problem for men older than age 50. Older men are at risk for prostate cancer as well, but it is much less common than BPH.
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Is The Psa Test Recommended For Prostate Cancer Screening
Until about 2008, some doctors and professional organizations encouraged yearly PSA screening for men beginning at age 50. Some organizations recommended that men who are at higher risk of prostate cancer, including African-American men and men whose father or brother had prostate cancer, begin screening at age 40 or 45. However, as more was learned about both the benefits and harms of prostate cancer screening, a number of organizations began to caution against routine population screening. Most organizations recommend that men who are considering PSA screening first discuss the risks and benefits with their doctors.
Currently, Medicare provides coverage for an annual PSA test for all Medicare-eligible men age 50 and older. Many private insurers cover PSA screening as well.
What Is The Prostate
The prostate is a walnut-shaped gland that is part of the male reproductive system. It has two or more lobes, or sections, enclosed by an outer layer of tissue. The prostate is located in front of the rectum and just below the bladder, where urine is stored. It surrounds the urethra at the neck of the bladder and supplies fluid that goes into semen.
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What If My Test Results Are Abnormal
If the results of early detection tests like the PSA screening or the digital rectal exam suggest that you might have prostate cancer, your doctor will conduct further testing. The PSA may be repeated, or you may be sent to a specialist for more tests such as a transrectal ultrasound and a prostate biopsy.
In a prostate biopsy, a tissue sample is taken from your prostate. Cancer can only be diagnosed with a tissue sample.
Recent research has yielded additional tests that in addition to the PSA and subsequent DRE and Biopsy that can give a doctor more information on to determine the probability of both finding cancer during a biopsy and determining how aggressive that cancer is likely to be. Read more on those tests.
Men At Higher Risk Of Prostate Cancer
Some men are at higher risk of prostate cancer than others. These are:
- black men
- men who have a family history of prostate cancer
The risk of prostate cancer also increases as men get older.
The evidence so far doesnt suggest that routinely screening these men would help prevent deaths from prostate cancer. In fact, it might lead to men having treatment for prostate cancer even though that cancer wouldnt have caused any problems or symptoms.
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Should You Know Your Psa Level
Instead of a national screening programme, there is an informed choice programme, called prostate cancer risk management, for healthy men aged 50 or over who ask their GP about PSA testing. It aims to give men good information on the pros and cons of a PSA test.
If youâre a man aged 50 or over and decide to have your PSA levels tested after talking to your GP, they can arrange for it to be carried out free on the NHS.
If results show you have a raised level of PSA, your GP may suggest further tests.
What Does A High Psa Level Mean
High PSA levels could be a sign of prostate cancer or a different condition like prostatitis or an enlarged prostate.
Other things can affect your PSA level:
- Age. Your PSA will normally go up slowly as you get older, even if you have no prostate problems.
- Medications. Some drugs may affect blood PSA levels. Tell your doctor if youâre taking dutasteride or finasteride . These drugs may falsely lower PSA levels by half of what they should be.
If your PSA level is high, your doctor may suggest that you get a prostate biopsy to test for cancer.
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Use In Men Already Diagnosed With Prostate Cancer
The PSA test can also be useful if you have already been diagnosed with prostate cancer.
- In men just diagnosed with prostate cancer, the PSA level can be used together with physical exam results and tumor grade to help decide if other tests are needed.
- The PSA level is used to help determine the stage of your cancer. This can affect your treatment options, since some treatments are not likely to be helpful if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.
- PSA tests are often an important part of determining how well treatment is working, as well as in watching for a possible recurrence of the cancer after treatment .
When Is It Time To Stop Being Checked For Prostate Cancer
Its essential to be fully informed about the potential risks of PSA testing, which includecomplications from biopsies and teratments.
The answer depends on your current health and your level of concern about cancer.
Routine PSA testing to check for prostate cancer is no longer recommended for most men. But despite what the experts suggest, many men continue to opt for annual PSA tests. This includes a surprisingly large number of men in their 70s. In a recent study in the journal Cancer, more than half of a group of men 75 and older had PSA tests and biopsies.
These men have placed their hope in the value of early diagnosis and treatment, yet stand to gain less from PSA testing than younger men. Across all ages, routine PSA screening leads to life-saving treatment for cancer in about one in every 1,000 men screened.
Force guidelines: These independent experts on preventive medicine do not recommend PSA screening for prostate cancer in men at any age, due to a lack of definitive evidence that the benefits of PSA testing are greater than the risks.
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How Are Researchers Trying To Improve The Psa Test
Scientists are investigating ways to improve the PSA test to give doctors the ability to better distinguish cancerous from benign conditions and slow-growing cancers from fast-growing, potentially lethal cancers. None has been proven to decrease the risk of death from prostate cancer. Some of the methods being studied include:
Psa Test: The Current Prostate Screening Standard
Before recommending when you should be screened for prostate cancer, yourdoctor will consider many factors, such as:
- Family history, particularly whether any of your family members have had prostate cancer
- Race, as African-American men have a higher risk of developing prostate cancer
If your doctor determines you should undergo screening, he or she will mostlikely recommend the PSA test. For more than 30 years, the PSA test hasbeen the gold standard in prostate cancer screening. This simple blood testmeasures how much prostate-specific antigen is in your blood.
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Why Is A Prostate
A PSA blood test is performed to detect or rule out prostate cancer. The amount of PSA in the blood is often higher in men who have prostate cancer. However, an elevated PSA level does not necessarily indicate prostate cancer. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the PSA blood test for use in conjunction with a DRE to help detect prostate cancer in men age 50 or older and for monitoring men with prostate cancer after treatment. However, much remains unknown about how to interpret a PSA blood test, its ability to discriminate between cancer and problems such as BPH and prostatitis, and the best course of action if the PSA level is high.
When done in addition to a DRE, a PSA blood test enhances detection of prostate cancer. However, the test is known to have relatively high false-positive rates. A PSA blood test also may identify a greater number of medically insignificant lumps or growths, called tumors, in the prostate. Health care providers and patients should weigh the benefits of PSA blood testing against the risks of follow-up diagnostic tests. The procedures used to diagnose prostate cancer may cause significant side effects, including bleeding and infection.
What Are Clinical Trials And Are They Right For You
Clinical trials are part of clinical research and at the heart of all medical advances. Clinical trials look at new ways to prevent, detect, or treat disease. Researchers also use clinical trials to look at other aspects of care, such as improving the quality of life for people with chronic illnesses. Find out if clinical trials are right for you.
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What Tests Can Find Prostate Problems
Some tests are routine, others need an appointment
The prostate is a walnut-sized gland in men that produces fluid that is a component of semen.
The gland has two or more lobes-or sections-enclosed by an outer layer of tissue. Located in front of the rectum and just below the bladder, where urine is stored, the prostate surrounds the urethra, which is the canal through which urine passes out of the body.
The most common prostate problem in men under 50 is inflammation or infection, which is called prostatitis. Prostate enlargement is another common problem.
Because the prostate normally continues to grow as a man matures, prostate enlargement, also called benign prostatic hyperplasia or BPH, is the most common prostate problem for men over 50. Older men are at risk for prostate cancer as well, but it is much less common than BPH.
Sometimes, different prostate problems have similar symptoms. For example, one man with prostatitis and another with BPH may both have a frequent, urgent need to urinate. Other men with BPH may have different symptoms. For example, one man may have trouble beginning a stream of urine, while another may have to get up to go to the bathroom frequently at night. A man in the early stages of prostate cancer may have no symptoms at all. This confusing array of symptoms makes a thorough medical examination and testing very important. Diagnosing the problem may require a series of tests.
Talking with your doctor or nurse
New Blood Test Improves Prostate Cancer Screening
Researchers at Karolinska Institutet recently reported that magnetic resonance imaging could reduce overdiagnoses and thereby improve prostate cancer screening.
Now, the same research group has published a study in The Lancet Oncology, which shows that the addition of a novel blood test, the Stockholm3 test, can reduce the number of MRIs performed by a third while further preventing the detection of minor, low-risk tumours.
Image credit: Darko Stojanovic via pixabay.com, free licence
Overall, our studies show that we have identified the tools needed to be able to carry out effective and safe screening for prostate cancer. After many years of debate and research, it feels fantastic to be able to present knowledge that can improve healthcare for men, says Tobias Nordström, associate professor of urology at the Department of Clinical Sciences, Danderyd Hospital at Karolinska Institutet, who is responsible for the STHLM3MRI study.
Current screening methods PSA tests combined with traditional biopsies result in unnecessary biopsies and the detection of numerous minor, low-risk tumours . Consequently, no country except Lithuania has chosen to introduce a nationwide prostate cancer screening programme, as the benefits do not outweigh the disadvantages.
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Reduced Need For Biopsies
The availability of MRI in healthcare will be a limiting factor. We now show that a novel blood test as adjunct to MRI can reduce the number of MRIs performed by a third. Compared with traditional screening, overdiagnosis is reduced by as much as 69 percent. At the same time, the number of biopsies is halved, while we can find just as many clinically significant tumours, says , associate professor at the Department of Medical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Karolinska Institutet, with joint responsibility for the STHLM3MRI study.
STHLM3MRI is a randomised study that was conducted between 2018 and 2021 with 12,750 male participants from Stockholm County. The participants provided an initial blood sample for PSA analysis and analysis using the new Stockholm3 test. Men with test results showing elevated PSA levels were then randomly selected for traditional biopsies or MRI. In the MRI group, biopsies were conducted strictly on suspected tumours identified by MRI.
Separate use of the Stockholm3 test and MRI has previously been shown to be cost-effective. We have now analysed the cost-effectiveness when these tools are combined and will shortly report exciting results from that analysis, Tobias Nordström concludes.
What Are Normal Psa Levels
Thereâs no such thing as a normal PSA for any man at any given age, but most men with prostate cancer have a higher than normal level. In general:
If your PSA results are in the borderline range , the % free PSA can be useful in helping distinguish between prostate cancer or benign prostatic hyperplasia . The pattern is the opposite of that seen with PSA in that a high % free PSAâabove 20%âpoints to BPH, while a %- free PSA less than 10% indicates a greater likelihood of cancer.
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New Prostate Cancer Blood Test
If you have an abnormal PSA score, your doctor may recommend another newertest that gives a better sense of yourprostate cancer risk. The prostate health index is one such test that is a more accurateblood test and measures your risk for having prostate cancer. Its approvedby the FDA for men who have PSA scores between 4 and 10.
What are the benefits of the PHI test?
- Fewer unnecessary biopsies: Some men who have elevated PSA scores are unsure about getting an invasive biopsy. This tool can be used to better determine whether your risk is high enough to warrant a biopsy.
- More accurate: This test is better at detecting prostate cancer. It can also detect whether you have a more aggressive type of cancer. This information can guide doctors to a more targeted treatment plan for you.
If you score low on the PHI test, your doctor may recommend monitoring youover time to see if your levels rise enough to cause concern.
How Is The Psa Test Used In Men Who Have Been Treated For Prostate Cancer
The PSA test is often used to monitor patients who have a history of prostate cancer to see if their cancer has recurred . If a mans PSA level begins to rise after prostate cancer treatment, it may be the first sign of a recurrence. Such a biochemical relapse typically appears months or years before other clinical signs and symptoms of prostate cancer recurrence.
However, a single elevated PSA measurement in a patient who has a history of prostate cancer does not always mean that the cancer has come back. A man who has been treated for prostate cancer should discuss an elevated PSA level with his doctor. The doctor may recommend repeating the PSA test or performing other tests to check for evidence of a recurrence. The doctor may look for a trend of rising PSA level over time rather than a single elevated PSA level.
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Should I Have A Psa Test
If you have no symptoms of prostate cancer and are thinking about having a PSA test, you should ask your doctor about the risks and benefits.
While some studies suggest PSA reduces mortality on a population basis, the test picks up large numbers of cancers that would have caused no symptoms or harm in the patient. This is known as overdiagnosis. Overdiagnosis of prostate cancer can lead to unnecessary treatments that have side effects such as sexual impotence, urinary incontinence and bowel problems.
It is important to balance the potential benefit of detecting a prostate cancer early against the risk that detection and treatment may not be necessary. Treatment may affect your lifestyle but it may also save your life.
Make your own decision about whether to be tested after a discussion with your doctor. Ensure you get good quality information to make an informed decision.
Screening tests for breast, bowel and cervical cancer can save lives, but there is still confusion around PSA testing for prostate cancer. Find more information here.
Remember, if you have any concerns or questions, please contact your doctor.